Classic Rock Review

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The Doors LA Woman (1971)

La_Woman-frontFrom starling.rinet.ru

If Strange Days was the Doors’ ‘Magical Album’ and Waiting For The Sun was their ‘Pop Album’, then this one is certainly their ‘Blues Album’. The number of generic blues tracks – and I mean generic, with a standard three-line-verse blues pattern, not “blues variations” a la ‘Maggie May’ or ‘The Spy’ – astonishes: it’s three (let me remind you that on the previous albums even one was already a lot), and most of the other tracks have a certain bluesy feel to them as well. The seeds sown on Morrison Hotel have obviously sprouted, and the Doors decided to temporarily reinvent themselves as a strict blues band.

Still, all of these three numbers are splendidly performed, in a way that only the Doors could manage – after all, their take on the blues had always been absolutely unlike anybody else’s; I personally would take one Doors’ blues number over the entire Fleetwood Mac catalog of 1968. ‘Been Down So Long’ features breathtaking double-tracked guitar solos over a beat that’s frighteningly simplistic, but leaves an unforgettable imprint in one’s memory, not to mention a particularly impressive vocal delivery by Jim who gives it his all, like he used to do four years earlier on ‘Back Door Man’.

The way he roars out ‘well I’ve been down so goddamn long that it looks like up to me’ is deeply personal, and somehow one begins to feel that at this point Jim had really suffered long enough to earn the right to sound completely authentic in his newly-found role of an old bluesman (‘I’ve been singing the blues ever since the world began…’). On ‘Cars Hiss By My Window’ the band, however, employs a different approach: the song just kinda drags on, slowly, moodily and quietly, with a very humble and subdued guitar background, until suddenly we witness Jim wailing and imitating a wah-wah guitar solo with his voice so splendidly that it’s hard to tell whether it’s a human voice or a wah-wah (hey, I’ve even had debates with my friends over that issue…).

Out of all the three songs, only ‘Crawling King Snake’ can be, to a certain extent, called a generic bore: it seems to me that this old blues cover was included on the album exclusively in order to have at least something to support Morrison’s fading necrophilian / chthonic mythological image. But the vocal delivery is monotonous and pro forma, and the arrangement is nowhere near as menacing as the one on ‘Been Down So Long’. Still, even in its function of the weakest number on the record, the song is pretty good.

Elsewhere, the “minor” numbers are surprisingly diverse, drawing on most of the styles the Doors had exploited on their previous records and succeeding almost all over the place. At least one number is an absolute classic: the fast pop rocker ‘Love Her Madly’, with a stunning steady beat and a driving electric piano part from Ray; Jim’s lyrics, this time apparently dedicated to lamenting an unshared love, are again as personal and hard-hitting as can be, but the best moment for me is Robbie’s minimalistic guitar solo towards the end of the song – these brief note sequences as he emulates Jim’s vocal melody always bring tears to my eyes, and this is unquestionably the second best moment on the whole album after Ray’s electric piano solo on ‘Riders On The Storm’.

The ‘mystic ravings’ side is this time represented by ‘The Wasp (Texas Radio And The Big Beat)’, an older outtake this time, already performed several times live in concert; while it can’t hope to rank alongside with the album-closing epics of yore, it’s still done with a lot of energy and set to a good set of organ riffs, too. The ‘soft balladeering’ side is represented by ‘Hyacinth House’ – Jim complaining about his loneliness, but you know, ’tis nobody’s fault but his, in any case, the song is quite pleasant and moving and could have been a real highlight on Waiting For The Sun, to be placed in the place of crap like ‘Wintertime Love’.

The ‘hey there let’s rock the house down’ side is represented by the opening ‘Changeling’, which is the album’s second weakest track – with its repetitive riff and pounding arena-rock beat it tries to emulate ‘Roadhouse Blues’ but is nowhere near as epic or melodically successful; sure enough, you can’t help tapping your foot to it, but you regret this right after the track’s end. And, finally, the ‘gloomy evil number’ side is represented by ‘L’America’ – a very strange song which in part sounds like the soundtrack to some King’s Quest, due to Manzarek’s cavernous-sounding organ and Robbie Krieger’s ‘evil sorcerer’ guitar tone.

The two great ‘epic’ hits here, however, are the title track and ‘Riders On The Storm’. ‘L. A. Woman’ can be seen as the Doors’ equivalent to the Stones’ ‘Midnight Rambler’ – an inventive, explorative kind of fast-paced song that goes from a general cheerful mood to becoming downright creepy in the middle and then climbs out into the light once again. If I understand the accompanying video correctly, it seems to be about a serial killer just like ‘Midnight Rambler’ was, only far better disguised, and with a strange ‘optimistic’ ending.

But nothing in the entire Doors catalog ever chills me out as much as the closing ‘Riders On The Storm’ – a song symbolic for the whole career of The Doors. A song that functions excellently as a Morrison swan song and his musical testament, and it’s oh so wonderful that he left us with ‘Riders’ as his testament and not, say, ‘Five To One’ or the pleasant, but – on a larger scale – throwaway ‘Maggie M’gill’. Its perfect arrangement – the steady soft drumming, the sound of crashing waves, the modest organ humming – only adds to the solemnity and humble grandeur of the whole experience; and when Ray hits the keyboards for the quiet jazzy piano solo in the middle, it seems the world is stopping for a couple of minutes. Pure magic: why can’t all those jazz masters actually play like this? Perhaps it’s ‘musically shallow’ from a technical viewpoint, like John Alroy sez, but it’s totally emotionally devastating. It might be my favourite moment among the whole Doors catalog.

Hate to say that, but perhaps Jim mounting a moonlight drive shortly after the release of the album was only too good for the band – ending their career on such a high note, at their peak. This certainly contributed a lot to the band’s legend (especially considering that nobody ever heard about the two albums that the band released without Jim), and every rock hero that dies shortly after recording a song like ‘Riders On The Storm’ is bound to become a legend. One can only guess what the band’s next move with Jim could have been. Becoming a hardcore blues outfit? Sticking to the same ‘mix’ formula? Going up? Going down? Let us not speculate, anyway; just be sure to buy this excellent record, if only to honour the memory of the old Lizard King.

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May 21, 2013 - Posted by | The Doors LA Woman |

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