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The Doors – The Doors [Album Review]

March 22, 2012

Break on Through (to the Other Side) / Soul Kitchen / The Crystal Ship / Twentieth Century Fox / Alabama Song (Whisky Bar) / Light My Fire / Back Door Man / I Looked at You / End of the Night / Take It As It Comes / The End

The Doors were a very talented group of musicians, able to merge the most unlikely influences thinkable at the particular time, but they ran out of ideas quickly, not in the least because vocalist Jim Morrison’s theatrical, self-obsessed and tortured poet-mystique became erratic really fast. That’s one interpretation. Others claim that The Doors were perhaps the ultimate chroniclers of late ‘60’s pop culture and counterculture, the first band to successfully unveil the childish optimism of the ‘Summer of Love’ nonsense, and pioneers of rock’s darker impulses. Its clear that a lot of his lyrics basically revolved around his “adolescent exhibitionism” and were a slight version of his heroes’ art (is it surprising they copped their name from Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, Huxley being a prophet of mind-expanding exploration?), but you gotta give him that he had few predecessors in the rock business. There had been a lot of poetry volume-waving beatniks around, but they were mainly interested in cool clubs and jazz, so Morrison’s dark vision and controversial attitude certainly were something awkward at the time (it’s telling that Love’s Arthur Lee allegedly had to beg Elektra chief Holzman to check them out).

The secret to the band’s success is of course their unique approach: they didn’t have a steady bass player – even though there usually was one when they recorded their albums (in this case: Danny Labahn) and from the get-go onwards came up with an here to of unheard blend of blues, pop, jazz, Eastern influences and even classical. All this was possible because of their different backgrounds, as organist Manzarek was classically trained, guitar player Robbie Krieger a blues fanatic and drummer John Densmore a jazz buff who accidentally wound up in a rock band. Then, there’s Jim Morrison, and no matter how fake his attitude might seem today, it’s undeniable that he was a superb vocalist with a commanding baritone he used to sing, whisper, cajole and growl (which he did with poise and style). While they’re famous because of their epics (“The End,” “Riders on the Storm,” “L.A. Woman”) there’s actually not much jamming going on here, as the majority of these songs don’t even pass the three minute-mark. “Break on Through,” the album’s first single, for instance, clocks in at a concise 2:25, and what a great 145 seconds it is, from the jazz-accented intro to Morrison’s ferocious hollering and Krieger’s greasy guitar tone, it’s one of the year’s best singles (and there were quite a lot of goodies). However, it was the second single “Light My Fire” that broke the band, and while I actually prefer the first to the second, this extended album version of the latter (more soloing, baby) might be better at stressing the band’s unique acid-drenched testosterone rock. Nowadays, Manzarek’s organ sounds completely dated, but I can imagine that the Sunset Strip boys totally loved that never-ending, mantra-like kind of stuff. The album contains a bunch of excellent tracks, several of which are finished by Morrison’s fine vocals. “The Crystal Ship,” for instance, isn’t that interesting when only listening to the music, but it gets its charms from the drugged vocal delivery. Likewise, the best part of “Twentieth Century Fox” -aside from Krieger’s short but thrilling solo – comes when Morrison rhythmically delivers lines such as “She – won’t – waste – time – on e-le-men-try – ta-halk.” The album also includes a first attempt at straight blues – Willie Dixon’s “Back Door Man” – and the result is a simple, struttin’ rendition that has “SEX” all over it. Even more than Mick Jagger, Morrison employed a degree of sleaze and vulgarity to make his point, and it works brilliantly here.

Playing the blues is something they’d actually return to when they ran out of silly ideas. It’s no surprise then that their bluesiest album would become their most consistent one. But in the meantime, there are a few excellent rockers as well: the fine “Soul Kitchen,” with its restrained verses and rocking chorus would be covered by X a dozen years later, whereas tracks like “I Looked at You” and “Take It As It Comes” – though not nearly as unique as the highlights – are fine in their conformity. In fact, I only have a (several) bone to pick with the album’s “creepy” moments: “End of the Night” (inspired by L.F. Celine’s Voyage au Bout de la Nuit? Probably) is nothing special (and that eerie slide guitar doesn’t help much either), and then there’s the lauded final, “The End.” I can’t stand that song anymore. I still like the hypnotic feel of the song, especially Krieger’s supremely atmospheric playing and Densmore’s occasional outbursts, but those theatrical vocals just annoy me now. Whereas the opera-like ambiance of the multi-part “Alabama Song” (Weill-Brecht! European! Arty! Cool!) still cracks me up, this 11-minute Oedipal tale just seems so bloated and, well, silly. Of course, it must’ve been controversial and very daring at the time, but its this innovative/controversial/influential-aspect of the music what means i can’t enjoy it because it’s an embarrassingly dated example of a defunct bullshit detector. That said, the majority of these songs here are not only unique, but also memorable tracks and great tracks.

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