Time & Changes/Portraits combines the Buckinghams' second and third albums onto a single-disc CD reissue. Producer James Guercio took on such a major role in their second album that he amounted to a more influential force, perhaps, than anyone in the band. He arranged, conducted, and wrote or co-wrote six of the ten selections. Most noticeably, there were orchestral arrangements, complete with timpanis and blaring horns, that wouldn't have been out of place in film scores, large jazz bands, or even (at their most dissonant) early Frank Zappa records. Obviously, he and/or the band were trying to be more experimental than they could on their hit singles, and the inclusion of the hit pop singles "Don't You Care" and "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" made the album all the more a strange affair. Not nearly as rock-oriented as their debut album, it was a quirky failure, as the Buckinghams were ultimately much more suited toward making AM singles than delving into somewhat strange orchestrated horn rock (although Guercio's songs were usually fairly hummable love songs when the arrangements were stripped away). In fact the strongest cut other than the hit singles, "Remember," could have been a hit without the oddball horn charts. On Portraits, the group continued to try out material too ambitious for the 45 format. The big difference this time around was that they wrote almost everything, instead of playing songs by Guercio and other outside writers. Some bands blossom given the room to stretch; others, when given the opportunity, prove that they're better off when constrained within the limitations of commercial singles. The Buckinghams, as laudable as their ambition was, fell into the latter category. The over-arching horn and string arrangements (still by Guercio) and occasional bouts of quasi-psychedelic weirdness -- not to mention the arty reprises of three songs -- couldn't disguise that these were, at heart, ordinary pop/rock songs trying to be something better and different. The two hit singles, "Hey Baby (They're Playing Our Song)" and "Susan," proved all of the above points by being the best (and most incongruous) cuts on the album, even as they were the least ambitious.
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AllMusic Review by Richie Unterberger