Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Four Sail

Released 1968 on Elektra
Reviewed by banjo, 19/01/2006ce

The last Elektra studio album. I like to think of it as Love's final album, period; since to me they are 'Elektra Records' and all the good things that once meant, personified.

Preceeded as it was by the towering, glittering, haunting and mysterious 'Forever Changes', it's always been easy to overlook 'Four Sail'. To mod sixties dressups, it doesn't have the stylishness of the first two Love LPs. To fans of Forever Changes, it's pretty much entirely without horns and acoustic guitars. Furthermore, Bryan MacLean's gone, along with the entire original lineup (except for Arthur Lee). To many people, that's been enough to consign it to the obscure end of an already 'obscure-ish' band's catalogue.

But I have come to regard it as Love's other masterpiece. The fuzzier, grittier, jammier side of Arthur Lee's mystical 'Forever Changes' LA muse.

Four Sail is indeed a beguiling record. Its opener, the rumbling roiling 'August' at once features those familiar, inimitable Arthur Lee chordal stylings...mesmerizing quasi-flamenco, fat Gibson fingerpicked arpeggiations. His singing is high and stately again. His Forever Changes 'Johnny Mathis' voice. The jagged bark of 'Stephanie Knows Who' is now 2 whole albums away (but wait! We're only on the first song). Newcomer Jay Donellan is a great lead guitarist, perhaps the best that Lee ever worked alongside (save for one other, of course). His leads are like a fluent Neil Young: All pining upper registers and countrified triplets. It works and gels as 'Love Guitar' though. He clearly knew what band he was joining. The song is 'August' in music. Thunder season. Hot & humid. High pressure. Maybe a little burnt out. It's a Love classic.

Many hallmarks of the Love sound are here in abundance. Lee’s way with a beguilingly original chord change is fully intact. The biggest change in his writing is his former startlingly abstract lyricism encountered in earlier songs like 'The Red Telephone' and '7 & 7 Is' seems to have been replaced by a more open-ended, laid back & grounded world view. On a song like 'Dream', Lee doesn't so much offer verbal eloquence as much as impressionism. This is one of my favorite songs, a perfect distillation of the Love '68 sound (similar in tone to the sound which many of the school of '66 found themselves at two years on, exemplified best by The Beatles white album). In fact, it's hard to get at what Lee is singing about (life on the road?) but he is persuasive and urgent about it. An interesting effect occurs late in the song where a heavily whispered, close miked Lee intones "shake it to the East, shake it to the West..."

The heaviest song on ‘Four Sail’ – one of the best Love tracks ever, is the closer to side one: Singing Cowboy. This song rocks. Arthur Lee’s freaked, go for broke testifying at the end is truly chilling – he has all the ferocious roar of his Da Capo-period soul shouters. The song itself has a great intro, all twisting Love chime-chords and rattlesnake maracas. Simply magnificent.

I’m a huge Love fan and have been for many years so I’ve lost much objectivity about their work. Perhaps some of the blame can be laid on how very safe so much 60s-derived guitar music has been for so long. Hearing something like ‘Four Sail’ anew makes me wish that the likes of this band stalked the earth once more. There’s serious one-of-a-kind talent on this record. A true visionary, a lyrical and philosophical genius, backed by a very capable band and with Jay Donnellan – a truly underrated ‘60s guitar trailblazer - following up the band’s elegant ‘finest hour’ with a scruffy, bluesy visceral and earthy second masterpiece doesn’t nearly happen every day.

Look for it on vinyl.

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