I don't usually post on the same album twice, but I wanted to follow up briefly on my previous post about Love's 1974 album, Reel To Real. In that post I focused mostly on my own initial negative reaction to the album and how differently I reacted to it upon hearing it again. Some of the questions that this album raises for me are central to what I think I am trying to accomplish with this blog in general: Why do we like certain kinds of music and not others, and why do our preferences change over time? Why do certain albums achieve "classic" status and remain in print for years, while others are discarded and forgotten almost immediately? Is there anything worth recovering in the things we have discarded? How does music affect our memory of the past, and how does our memory of the past affect the way we listen to music? Of course none of these questions have definitive answers, I see them as merely jumping off points for discussion.
In writing my original post I had to consider the possibility that my judgment might be clouded by the fact that I paid a lot of money to obtain the album. I think on the whole I assessed it as honestly as I could, and I stand by that assessment completely. I have been listening to the album regularly for the past couple of weeks. I've enjoyed it, and so have my wife and son. While I do not believe that Reel To Real is a consistently great album like Forever Changes, I do think it is pretty good with some excellent tracks. It is also far, far better than its critical reputation suggests. It sounds like what could have been an exciting, and potentially commercially successful, direction for Arthur Lee. Unfortunately that was not to be; the album tanked commercially and within two years of its release he was earning his living painting houses with his father-in-law. It would be six years before he released another album, and he would never again record for a major label.
So just how bad is Reel To Real's critical reputation? In short, to the extent that it is not forgotten completely, very bad. Colin Larkin, editor of The Encyclopedia of Popular Music lists Reel To Real as one of the 80 or so worst albums of all time, in the company of The Country Side of Pat Boone, Merry Christmas With The Smurfs, Telly Savalas' Telly, a Milli Vanilli remix album, and LaToya Jackson's From Nashville To You. Of course Colin Larkin has as much a right to his opinion as I do to mine, but I would strongly argue that the album does not belong in company like that, and that the negative critical reactions to the album are colored by preconceptions about what a Love album is supposed to sound like and not by the music itself.