Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Love - Four Sail & Out Here Revisited

Four Sail and Out Here were the first two "Love" albums to appear after the original line up disintegrated. When Brian MacLean expressed his outrage that Arthur Lee would release music made by a different band under the Love moniker, Jimi Hendrix reportedly angrily responded "Arthur Lee is Love!" Hendrix may or may not have been right about that, but it would certainly be the case henceforth.

The music on Four Sail and Out Here was recorded at a makeshift studio with equipment rented by Lee, and featured a new band (Jay Donnellan on guitar, George Suranovich on drums and Frank Fayad on bass). Love may have still been in debt to Elektra for recording costs associated with Da Capo and Forever Changes at that point, so Lee was keen to keep control of the recording costs himself. Additionally, Lee had been looking for a way to get out of his contract with Elektra since before Da Capo was recorded.

Exactly what happened is murky. By most accounts all of the material for the two albums was recorded at the same time for a proposed double LP for Lee's new label, Blue Thumb. Brian MacLean may have already left the band by this point, but Lee apparently never told the others that they had been fired, nor did he tell Elektra about his new contract. Both labels seem to have been out-of-the-loop on the band's personnel situation as well, although Elektra may have offered MacLean the chance to record a solo album.

When Elektra got word of what Lee was up to, they took their pick of the newly-recorded songs for the last LP owed to them under Lee's previous contract, and released Four Sail. But Blue Thumb wanted music from the classic Love line-up, and convinced Lee to make another go of it with the Forever Changes-era line-up, minus MacLean. That plan fell apart after Johnny Echols and Ken Forssi (by Lee's contention) pawned their rented equipment for drug money. Meanwhile, Blue Thumb was stuck with the leftovers from the Four Sail sessions and released the material as the double LP, Out Here, although it is possible some of the material featured on that album was recorded at a later point.

If all this sounds confusing, it's probably because it was a bitter and confusing time for all involved. Former Love drummer Michael Stuart describes the deteriorating situation from his own perspective in his memoir of the period, Pegasus Carousel. Stuart blames many of the problems on Lee's dictatorial tendencies and reluctance to accept gigs, a practice that left the other members of the band with too much time to indulge in their less-than-healthy habits. For his part, Lee tended to pin the blame on the worsening drug addiction among all members of the band, often claiming he was the only member of the band not hooked on heroin (though he was also known to claim that he nearly died from an O.D. around this time himself). Whatever account you choose to accept, one thing is certain--heavy use of hard drugs contributed enormously to the band's break up.

Four Sail probably never got an entirely fair shake due to the lingering bitterness over the break up of the original band. But Four Sail has many defenders today--check out the sincere and passionate defenses of the album on Amazon.com, and on Love message boards. Stereophile critic Michael Fremer has also written an insightful revisionist review of the album.
Personally, I was initially disappointed when I first heard Four Sail. The album struck me as less eclectic than the work of the original band. Love, Da Capo and Forever Changes all sounded fresh to me when I first heard them in the late eighties. The music on the first three albums seemed both of its time, yet somehow outside of time as well. Four Sail did not strike me in the same way--for better or worse it sounded very much like a product of its times. Four Sail sounded too similar to a lot of other "heavy" psychedelic rock from the period (Cream, Hendrix, Traffic, The Allman Brothers, etc.) to really impress me at the time. Whereas I admired "7 & 7 Is" as an obvious inspiration for punk rock, Four Sail stuck me as the kind of music I understood punk rock to be a reaction against. I thought the album was okay, but I never really got into it.

In retrospect, I think the revisionist defenders of the album largely have it right. From the opening psychedelic riffing on "August" to the gentle, emotional closer "Always See Your Face," the songwriting is of very high quality, and the musicianship is excellent (new guitarist Jay Donnellan is especially impressive). And if the music sounds a little more like other popular music from the period than previous efforts, so what? It's still mostly good stuff.

A personal favorite from the album is "Your Friend And Mine - Neil's Song," a bitter homage to Love roadie Neil Rappaport who had died of a heroin overdose upon returning from the band's ill-fated 1968 East Coast tour in support of Forever Changes. This is no maudlin "Candle In The Wind" type tribute. Lee thinks back on the good times he shared with his buddy while simultaneously expressing anger at him for being so stupid as to let his habit kill him ("They took all your money, now look what they're doin' for you -- chump!"). But even in his righteous anger Lee sees a reflection of his own imperfect self in Rappaport ("all we are is two of kind"). At the same time Lee seems to be expressing some latent anger at Rappaport for introducing him to hard drugs. The sentiment isn't pretty, but it's an honest expression of the mix of emotions a person might feel when a friend passes away too soon.

Four Sail is available as an import CD with bonus tracks, and on 180 gram vinyl from Sundazed. Both are worthwhile additions to any Love fan's collection.

Out Here impressed me far less than Four Sail when I first heard it, and that remains the case to this day. It wasn't until I heard six of the album's better tracks isolated on Rhino's 1995 anthology, Love Story, that I recognized that some of the material on Out Here is actually killer. It's easy to understand why: the album is packed with filler that represents the worst kind of 60s rock excess, including that most maligned of all conventions, the extended drum solo.

The album starts out okay with "I'll Pray For You" but deteriorates quickly with "Abolony" (a country rocker in which Lee rhymes "Abolony" with "baloney"). This is followed by a "heavy" remake of the first album's "Signed D.C." This track reminds me of the scene in Spinal Tap where the band breaks into an atrocious heavy-metal version of "Gimi Some Money," a song that had earlier been heard in a much more charming Merseybeat arrangement. Except this isn't funny. The temptation to lift the needle a couple minutes into this abomination in order to check out side two is strong, which would be a shame because you would skip the outstanding ballad "Listen To My Song."

Side two starts with the hard-rocking "Stand Out," a song that expresses Lee's emerging racial consciousness, a trend that would eventually lead to his full-on embrace of soul music with Reel To Real. Then comes "Discharged" one of the worst "protest" songs I have ever heard. This is the kind of crap that helped motivate the so-called "silent majority" to elect Richard Nixon President. Then comes "Doggone" with its seemingly endless drum solo (ironically, in an edited version "Doggone" is a pretty good song).

The rest of the album follows a similar pattern; the outstanding "I Still Wonder" is followed by the interminable psychedelic jamming of "Love Is More Than Words or Better Late Than Never," and the lovely "Willow Willow" is followed by "Instra-Mental," an instrumental track that would have been better named "Out-Take."

The good stuff on Out Here is very good, in a few cases even better than the best tracks on Four Sail. I'd go so far as to say "Willow Willow" and "I Still Wonder" are among the best songs Lee ever wrote (were it not for the fact that Jay Donnellan wrote "I Still Wonder"). But the album is ultimately brought down by the low quality of its filler. It strikes me that this is exactly the kind of album you don't want to release as your first on a new label. I imagine this album made it very difficult for Blue Thumb's A&R people to work up much enthusiasm for their new act, especially since they thought they were signing a different band. Lee could have made a much better case for his new band with a single album and some judicious use of a fader. Out Here is yet another example of Lee's tendency toward career self-sabotage. It presents both some of the best and worst trends in popular music as the 60s faded into the 70s.

Out Here is currently out-of-print, although key tracks are available on the compilations Love Story 1966-1972 and Out There. Honestly, those compilations--which omit the worst of the filler--are a much better way to hear the material. Mercifully edited versions of "Doggone" and "Love Is More Than Words" can be heard on the out-of-print Studio/Live. Here are a couple tracks that aren't on any compilation--it's basically some of the stuff that should have been cut to make Out Here a single album. "I'm Down" is easily the best track not to have been anthologized. I include "Discharged" only to remind us of the wrong way to criticize an unjust war.

I'm Down [now available from Hip-O Select]
Discharged [now available from Hip-O Select]

Arthur Lee's New Love (left to right):
Frank Fayad, George Suranovich, Jay Donnellan, Arthurly


brendan@risingstorm said...

Wow. Seriously great post and generally awesome blog! Just curious, considering your MO as stated in the header (which is a relief to see!), then why the link to music pirating aggregator tfuzzy?

Great work here!

John Ward said...

Great reviews - though I think you are a little hard on 'Out Here'. I have always found the longer version of 'Signed DC' to get closer to the despair of addiction.

Pete Bilderback said...

Brendan--I guess I did not fully realize what Totally Fuzzy is all about. After having looked at the site more closely, I have removed the link.

John--I probably am a little too hard on Out Here.

Thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

hello .i just want to offer a different perspective.i.e. the first love record i ever heard was "out here".it was so different from anything i had ever heard before.i didn't know what arthur looked like didn't know who he was in the picture.this record knocked my socks off.it got me wandering the streets,the park,the woods thinking.i don't think that four sail and out here are from the same sessions.they sound completely different.anyhow when arthur screams on signed d.c. it's intense so real.the drummer is incredible one of the best ever.the guitars awesome,the bass of course.c'mon they are just maligned because people like to compare apples and oranges.i heard that the drummer wanted a solo so arthur let him.i can see why.that s--t had to come out.and i love the jamming after doggone too.it's fun to groove to endlessly.the lyrics are quirky but that's why they are cool like what's he going to say next?abalony's lyrics fall into the so bad it's good category for me.they make no sense.or do they?if you play "discharged"for someone who doesn't even like that era's music they'll probably get a kick out of it(i speak from experience).out here here is my favorite love album.i consider it to be a masterpiece front to back.arthur's voice on this album is exquisite...i also think that "nothing" from four sail is one of arthur's all time best.i also like the song "skid"or "skin" maybe with jimi on it from black beauty...i saw arthur do forever changes before he passed into the great beyond,his voice and harmonica were spot on-peace-davey

Anonymous said...

hi. it's davey again.i was so proud of my comment,but i looked it over and found a mistake.i meant the jamming after "love is more than words" is definitely digable to me(i wish i could make those sounds on my guitar).now that i'm here again i'd also like to say that "instra-mental" moves me as well.it's not too long,the riffs are infectious,the organ is tweaked nicely, and you know if you were at a concert you'd be dancing to this groove. one last thing: a true artist doesn't care what the friggin' label thinks(unless they own it), although blue thumb is a dope label(dave mason-alone together,luis gasca- for those who chant, among other recordings).the fold out picture in the middle i love to look at while listening to the music.this album had to come out of arthur and it did. and i thank the universe that i was/am able to hear it-peace-davey

Pete Bilderback said...

Hi Davey--thanks for your perspective. I have my own set of biases, and am probably being too tough on Out Here.

Anonymous said...

I also love Your Friend Of Mine, a wonderful piece i keep listening on and on. I was looking on info about the track on the web and found it here, so thanks a lot :)
Great post and great blog

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