Monday, May 9, 2011

Love 1: Love

Hindsight has been very kind to the band known as Love, more so than when they started out. Despite being one of the best live bands on the Sunset Strip, various coincidences led them to be overshadowed by the likes of the Byrds and even their own labelmates, the Doors. It’s too bad, because for the time they were pretty unique, boasting a racially integrated lineup capable of swapping instruments. In the decades since, the band has achieved cult status, giving the original members a last moment in the spotlight.
None of their albums boasted a consistent lineup, but the first three come close. Love is a wonderful collection of garage rock, a mix of Byrds jangle and proto-punk, driven by slightly out-of-tune guitars and a prominent bass (this being the era when engineers were still trying to figure out how to record the instrument properly). While Johnny Echols plays lead and rhythm guitarist Bryan MacLean sings one of his own songs, from the beginning it’s Arthur Lee who’s clearly in charge, writing and singing the bulk of the material, and only adding harmonica here and there.
Their defiant deconstruction of Burt Bacharach’s “My Little Red Book” gives only an indication of what the band can do, matching an atonal riff to the straighter chorus. “Can’t Explain” crosses the Who with the Byrds, with a hint of the doomed lyrics soon to become Arthur’s trademark. One of his better tunes is “A Message To Pretty”, a deceptively sweet kiss-off, the last chord of which hangs in for the setup of “My Flash On You”, itself a foreshadowing of their version of “Hey Joe” on side two. Bryan MacLean’s “Softly To Me” provides a tender contrast, working well in the dialogue before Arthur’s less angry “No Matter What You Do”. The band gets a few moments to jam on “Emotions”, a half-speed surf instrumental that functions as intermission music.
“You I’ll Be Following” brings us back to the garage, with its wordplay and inside references. “Gazing” is textbook folk-rock, their attempt at writing a Dylan song as covered by the Byrds. Possibly the most striking track is “Signed D.C.”, a harrowing portrait of an acid casualty, and one wonders if the Moody Blues heard this before recording “Nights In White Satin”. “Colored Balls Falling” barely gets started before fading after the guitar solo, giving more time to the gentle yet apocalyptic “Mushroom Clouds”. “And More” sums up the album’s sound with more suspended chords.
The similarity between several of the songs notwithstanding, Love remains an engaging listen. Fourteen tracks are a lot for a new band, and they deliver on each. These days it’s only available as an iTunes download, which includes two bonus tracks: the silly B-side “No. Fourteen” and an alternate take of “Signed D.C.” Both are also included on the excellent 2001 Elektra Classic import CD, alongside the complete album in mono and stereo.

Love Love (1966)—4
Current CD availability: none; download only

3 comments:

  1. Wardo, nice write up on the first Love LP. I think part of the problem with Love is that they were a top LA band rarely ventured out of Southern California. When I was a kid, "My Little Red Book" was in heavy rotation on the LA AM radio stations. It was probably ignored in other parts of the country. Thanks for all the good work you do.

    BF

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  2. Thank you (again)! I didn't know if I could do this one justice.

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  3. Wow! You've reviewed a lot of music that I've never heard, but I think this is your first review of a band that I've never even heard of. I'll make it a point to seek these guys out and give them a listen.
    -Vance

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