Commercially ignored upon release in November 1967, Forever Changes confronts the alienation, paranoia, violence, and strife that would soon plague the countercultural movement and send the Summer of Love into a tailspin. Apart from its lyrical themes and prescient malaise, the record's enduring nature equally owes to intertwined arrangements sewn together with Latin guitar-picked lines, finessed folk harmonies, mariachi-inspired horn charts, and subdued strings.
The seemingly opposing combination – ominous, dark reflections situated amidst lush, light melodic beds – affords Forever Changes a distinguished tension of claustrophobia and openness, dourness and ecstasy, ugliness and elegance enjoyed by no other record in the rock canon. Much of the contrast owes to leader Arthur Lee's mental state and pertinent observations. Lee, whose suppressed romanticism often surfaces even amidst the blackest shadows and most cynical moments, believed he would soon die, and hence channeled everything from lasting hopes to acid-addled decay to the chilling testimony of a Vietnam veteran in his narratives.
Alternatively sad and beautiful, the album-opening and flamenco-inspired "Alone Again Or" establishes the mood for what follows. Vocals overlap and soar; tempos rise and fall; surrealism trades places with reality. Forever Changes thrives both because of and in spite of a surfeit of labyrinthine chords and difficult notes that never repeat. Its ambitious construction almost forced the already fractured band to cede responsibilities to session musicians, which appear on two tracks. The quintet's resolve to not only complete the album, but to do so with such poignancy and curiosity, further enhances Forever Changes' standing.
No wonder that, in the twilight of his troubled career, Lee performed the record in its entirely during concerts met with overwhelming critical acclaim. It was, and will always be, a personal manifesto of timeless relevance and appeal.