Tuesday, August 12, 2008

184. The Doors: Other Voices (1971)

I recently wrote about The Attractions making a record without Elvis Costello. That was weird, wasn't it? Well, get this: The Doors made two albums without Jim Morrison following his death in 1971!

Maybe that isn't terribly surprising if you've followed the band at all. Of all the acclaimed groups to come out of the '60s, no other has been less willing to leave its legacy alone. There was 1978's An American Prayer, wherein Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek, and John Densmore added instrumental backing to recordings of Morrison reading his poetry. In 2002 Krieger and Manzarek joined with Ian Astbury as The Doors of the 21st Century. Now, they're known as Riders on the Storm, with former Fuel singer Brett Scallions on vocals.

If this seems like flogging a dead lead singer, well, it kind of is. Consider that Morrison died in July of 1971, and that this album came out in October of the same year. Maybe the band didn't know what else to do with itself. Perhaps with some time and reflection, the three remaining Doors would have reconsidered the decision to press on. As it is, the album's timing can't help but seem slightly callous and disrespectful, especially considering none of the songs address Morrison's death.

Jim Morrison was an understandably polarizing entity. To some he's a visionary poet and philosopher. To others he's a drunk guy spouting nonsense. But few can argue against his charisma. And few would argue that he transformed the workmanlike jazz and blues tunes of his bandmates into something completely unique. By carrying on without Morrison, Manzarek, Krieger, and Densmore were inviting their lyrics and vocals to undergo brutal scrutiny, and while they don't fail completely, they don't succeed fully either.

See, keyboardist Ray Manzarek is not a bad lyricist; he does a reasonable impression of Morrison's mystical writing style. Unfortunately, on a couple of songs he also attempts to do an impression of Morrison's vocals. The raspy results are strained and painful and end up marring the mildy catchy In the Eye of the Sun, which is otherwise buoyed by Manzarek's familar jazzy organ and a light-as-air guitar performance by Krieger. Tightrope Ride (seemingly about The Rolling Stones' Brian Jones) suffers a similar fate. Thankfully, Manzarek assumes a slightly different, more natural voice on the Latin jazz flavored Hang On to Your Life. Unfortunately, he sounds like Bryan Ferry with a sinus infection.

Robby Krieger's songs present the opposite problem. He's definitely a more gifted singer than Manzarek, with a tenor that recalls Paul Simon. Unlike Paul Simon though, his lyrics are laughable. In fact, maybe humor is what he was going for, with a blunt, tasteless song like I'm Horny, I'm Stoned. Variety is the Spice of Life is worse, a justification of infidelity: "You've gotta try everything once / You better build up your endurance." Maybe it's ironic and tongue-in-cheek, but the lyrics aren't clever enough to put that across. I have no problem with humor in music, but 1) it's a stretch to call these songs humor, and 2) a band whose songs have been used to accompany terrifying scenes of cow slaughter is not where you'd tend to go for a laugh.

Speaking of cow slaughter, Down on the Farm has a similarly light-hearted nature. It alternates between pseudo-Pink Floyd verses and a hoe-down chorus that reminds me of the music that might accompany one of those '70s video montages of kids running around in a petting zoo they might show on Sesame Street.

If all of this sounds like kind of a mess, well, it is. Listening to the album makes me wonder what other options the Morrison-less Doors might have pursued. Here's what I thought of:

1) They could have disbanded. That would have been understandable, expected, sensible.
2) They could have found a new lead singer, which would have caused some initial backlash, but might have paid off eventually, both musically and emotionally. Bonus if they had retired the Doors name immediately.
3) As the song Ships w/ Sails indicates, the three might have continued on as an improvisational, instrumental jazz-rock trio.

Any of these options would have been better than what actually happened, but that's the kind of lesson history teaches us. The sad truth is that even if Morrison had sung on these songs, there's nothing as plainly thrilling as their best work together, songs like Peace Frog, Hello, I Love You, People Are Strange, or Touch Me.

Unless you have the uncanny ability to listen completely objectively or you've never heard a Doors song before in your life, Other Voices is best left alone.

Grade: D
Fave Song: N/A


Steve said...

Well I beg to differ. I still have the vinyl I bought in '74. There are some doubtful songs but Tightrope Ride alone is worth the price of admission - lyrically & musically. Down on the Farm is just a lot of fun - petting zoo imagery aside. I love the harmonies on the chorus & the organ sweep that opens it up.

Yes it's The Doors without Jim. but it does quite nicely all the same.

Anonymous said...

Other Voices is exactly what the name implies, No Morrison, cause he'd dead, and who knows exactly how or why, Didn't stop the recording company from wanting their contract fulfilled though did it, did you consider that in your negative review of what I consider a pretty good album, I remember it after 38 years, couldn't have been all that bad, keep your negativity to yourself that is not what the doors were about.

Anonymous said...

I saw the Doors in the fall of 1971. I thought the show was great. The band was much tighter than with Morrison(I saw a 1970 show). I wasn't fond of the album. I've never even heard "Full Circle".