Monday, October 24, 2011
Strange Days - The Doors
The first time I heard of the Doors I was about 13, Jim Morrison was already dead and the remaining trio had given up their effort to keep the band alive. I learned of them from reading an interview with Linda Ronstadt where she described touring with them in unflattering terms. Nonetheless I was intrigued, particularly by the band's name. I had heard "Light My Fire" on the radio of course, but I didn't know then who did it. On my next visit to the record store I checked them out and liked what I saw. I didn't have enough money to want to experiment with them though, my money was reserved for the Beatles. A year or two later I read Joan Didion's classic essay "Waiting For Morrison" and I was hooked. I had to investigate these guys. I bought their debut album and it blew my teenage mind away. During high school they were one of my favorite groups, I thought they were daring and even dangerous. I outgrew them when I got to college and I came to find them silly and pretentious. I stopped listening to them altogether. Eventually I came back to them. I'm not a fan but I like most of their records again. This is my favorite although it is not as dazzling as the debut or as consistent as "L. A. Woman." I just find it more interesting. It opens with "Strange Days" which has a strong psychedelic feeling with the swirling organ and sound effects supporting trippy lyrics of distorted perception and confusion. It features an alienated sensibility that permeates the album. The confusion expressed in this song extends into "You're Lost Little Girl" which is a song that instantly invokes the sixties and flower children to me. "Love Me Two Times" is a more commercial song reminiscent of "Light My Fire" with its sexually suggestive lyrics and urgency. It has a catchy guitar riff and memorable harpsichord playing from Ray Manzarek. "Unhappy Girl" finds Morrison attempting to liberate the title character from her self-imposed prison accompanied by a whirlwind of trippy music. "Horse Latitudes" is one of my least favorite Doors songs. It is about horses being thrown off a ship into the sea and Morrison orates the pretentious lyrics rather than singing them, like a bad actor or a pompous poet. If you've ever read any of Morrison's poetry you know what an awful poet he was. This song was one of the ones that made me decide he was full of crap back when I was in college. I haven't really changed my mind about that and I still hate this song, but I appreciate Morrison's charisma and the band's theatricality enough to overlook a little pretentiousness. Fortunately side one finishes strong with "Moonlight Drive" with some fine bottleneck guitar work from Robby Krieger supporting another Morrison call to hedonism. I think it is one of their best songs. "People Are Strange" features lyrics reminiscent of "Strange Days" but substitutes a cabaret flavor for psychedelia. "My Eyes Have Seen You" finds Morrison coming on to another girl. The man invariably comes up with good pick-up lines. Its propulsive melody, strong hook and driving beat make it one of the most compelling songs on the record. "I Can't See Your Face In My Mind" is either bad poetry or good psychedelia, maybe it's both. The music has a dreamy feel to it. The side ends with the epic "When The Music's Over" which I presume is an attempt to emulate "The End" from their debut album. I think both songs are full of crap, but I like this one a little better. I suspect both songs worked better live than on record since their dramatic character would have been enhanced by Morrison's magnetism and theatrical nature. "When the Music's Over" has some pretty atrocious lyrics but there are some memorable lines, I particularly like "music is your only friend" and "cancel my subscription to the Resurrection." I appreciate its ambition and the Dionysian message of it and there are some terrific musical passages in the song which is dominated by Manzarek's majestic organ lines. If nothing else it does provide a dramatic conclusion to the album which to me is the most theatrical one in the Doors catalogue, indeed one of the most theatrical albums in rock history. The theatricality extends to the brilliant album cover which is one of my all time favorites. It is worth buying on vinyl for the cover alone. For all its faults I find this album to be endlessly listenable. It is full of originality and inspired creativity which you don't hear on too many rock albums, either then or now, the Doors may have been pretentious, but they did blaze a new trail in rock. 44 years later you can still hear their influence in countless modern bands. Recommended to bad poets aspiring to be bad actors.