Monday, May 05, 2008

Opening Doors

I have spent the past few days listening to the DVD-Audio surround sound mixes of the six studio albums recorded by the Doors. I was never a fan of the Doors in the 1960s or the 1970s; while I liked some songs, I didn't care for the group as a whole. However, my indifference to their music was counterbalanced by my love for well-done 5.1 surround DVD-Audio sound; once the entire studio ouevre was offered in DVD-A, I had to pick it up.

Now that I've listened to each album all the way through more than once, I offer ten wholly biased observations regarding the Doors:

(1) They wanted to be a blues band. I never realized that, since none of their hits reflect that sound, but on every album they include bluesy cuts that leave no doubt of their abiding love for the blues.

(2) Jim Morrison, in spite of his sensitive image, most often fell into a Hank Williams Jr. rowdy growl as his normal vocal style. It surprised me, based on the image he tried to convey in life as a Rimbaud-influenced poet; his vocals don't match.

(3) John Densmore is an amazing drummer. I was actually impressed by Ray Manzarek's keyboard work (some of his organ work can convey Iron Butterfly and Elton John in the same song, which is pretty amazing, and his electric piano intro to "Riders in the Storm" remains one of the most evocative segments of rock music) and Robby Krieger's guitar, but Densmore's drumming is superlative. The DVD-Audio really shows off his work; the drums are crisp and meaty at the same time, making it clear just how much his performance carries some of the songs.

(4) Lyrically, Morrison was generally awful, but he could turn a brilliant phrase. I expected more; I had heard how Morrison was a brilliant rock poet, and I expected to be dazzled by his phrasing and imagery. What I heard, for the most part, were embarrassingly bad lyrics that rely on dreary rhyme, pretentious phrasing, and shock value; when he tries to be more sensitive or poetic, it's often lyrically discordant and unfocused. "L.A. Woman" has some inspired bits, all in all the song fails because Morrison has a distinct inability to develop a metaphor into a conceit; he gets off track and loses focus. Ironically, "L.A. Woman" is followed by one of the worst pieces of garbage the Doors ever put on tape, "L'America," which reminds the listener just how unfocused and hit-or-miss Morrison's talents could be.

(5) I've heard some songs, including "Light My Fire," at the wrong speed for so long that they sounded weird when I heard them at the right speed. The liner notes explain how bad equipment was to blame for tape drag that made most of that album run too slow; it's been corrected. After a few listenings of the remixed DVD-Audio, it sounds right now, but it took a while to adjust.

(6) Morrison was a vocal showman who was, in some ways, a precursor to performers like Meat Loaf. As I listen to his over-the-top performances, I realize how often he compensated for limited range with vocal pyrotechnics and melodrama.

(7) The Doors loved heavy repetition, both lyrically and musically. Many of their songs hammer the same musical and/or lyrical phrasing home again and again; they're not the only group to do this, of course, but I'm not an avid fan of that approach.

(8) There is no great Doors album--at least, no great studio album from the six they completed before Morrison's death. The greatest hits packages prove that the whole can be much greater than the sum of its parts.

(9) The Doors really should have continued without Morrison. While his persona made him the star of the group, the other three were far too talented to let the group end with his passing.

(10) Early Doors albums are only moderately improved by surround sound, but the latter albums, with more complex arrangements and production, sound so much better in 5.1 sound that I was unable to finish listening to them all the way through in simple stereo after having heard the surround mixes. Soft Parade is the first album to really benefit from 5.1 surround; the mix leaps at you aggressively and assertively. Morrison Hotel is almost as strong, while L.A. Woman benefits most of all; the 5.1 mix on the aforementioned "Riders in the Storm" makes the song truly haunting in its beauty.


Lanny said...

I've always had a lot of mixed feelings about the quality of The Doors music.

Thanks for the great overview. It pretty much lines up with my own take: based on limited exposure though it is.

Jim Morrison always seemed over rated to me while the music itself seemed better and managed to stand alone when Morrison wasn't waxing poetic in his lounge singer-like tones.

Always a great read at 'not much'a nothin'!

Art said...

I had the great fortune to see Robby Krieger play at a little restaurant/bar called the Brandy House in Buckhead back in 2001 or so. That guy's abilities have grown so much since the doors as to be unrecognizable. He really amazed me, playing one of his old SG's. And you would think he would be so sick of "Light My Fire" by now that he would beat himself to death with his guitar, but instead he closed his eyes and had the most resplendent* smile.

* I looke this word up just for this comment.