Friday, September 22, 2017

Doors 8: Other Voices and Full Circle

Jim Morrison was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatsoever about that. He wasn’t in hiding, he wasn’t exploring his poetry, and he wasn’t breathing due to the combination of alcohol, heroin, and bathwater in his system. Jim Morrison was as dead as a door-nail.
The band still wanted to play, of course. They’d been working on new material already, having learned to fend for themselves without their lead singer around to drop his pearls of imagery. The last couple of Doors albums proved that, as a musical unit, they were tight and certainly capable. Whether anyone would care about them without the handsome guy in the leather pants out front was another question.
Other bands have rebounded successfully when they had to replace their singer, and the Doors kept it simple by splitting the task between keyboard player Ray Manzarek, who already showed his weakness on Absolutely Live, and guitarist Robbie Krieger, whose best quality is that he didn’t sound like Ray. Both guys couldn’t help but utter echoes of Jim’s swagger and laid-back delivery. Beyond that, all they needed to do was combine their instruments into enough catchy tracks to fill album sides, live shows, and hopefully, their bank accounts.
With its stark white cover and band portrait, Other Voices is a bold if indisputable claim, but the album works best when they just play. After a brief psychedelic whirl, “In The Eye Of The Sun” nails a nice swampy groove. “Ships w/Sails” is a sustainable Latin jam (unlike “Hang On To Your Life”), and “Tightrope Ride” is a direct descendant of “L.A. Woman”. “Down On The Farm” sounds the least like the Doors, but it gets distracted trying to change direction. Even the over-long “Wandering Musician” has a great hook for a slow fade. Yet, whatever one’s opinion of Jim’s “poetry”, the guys on their own were not impressive lyricists. “Variety Is The Spice Of Life” and “I’m Horny, I’m Stoned” aren’t about to make it into Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations anytime soon.

A tour behind the album with a bass player and a second guitarist convinced them they could keep going, and they did. While Other Voices contained songs that Jim could arguably have sung himself, much of Full Circle considers what they might have sounded like had they never met the guy. (Really, would he have ever exhorted a crowd to “Get Up And Dance”?) The ensemble was expanded in the studio, utilizing a lot more percussion, funky backup singers, and Charles Lloyd on sax and flute. His contribution turns “Verdilac” into near-fusion; it’s just too bad there are lyrics. “Good Rockin’ Tonight” is tackled fairly straight, except for the cacophonous piano pounding and Ray’s ill-advised growling at the end. There’s even less excuse for “The Mosquito”, a bipolar track with some great jamming but an embarrassing lyrical hook (“no me moleste mosquito”, and we’re not kidding) that helped the song chart in Spanish-speaking countries. “The Peking King And The New York Queen” tries to hard to be beat poetry, though the combination of the vocals and female additions seems to predict at least one Zappa album.
Both albums remained out of print for a few decades, and were ignored by the organization once Jim’s mythology took over. But in this century, after smaller labels did okay with semi-legitimate reissues, the band made it available for streaming. Then an official re-release paired the albums in a two-CD set, with one bonus track: the 1972 B-side “Treetrunk”. Left off Full Circle because it was “too commercial”, it’s probably the best song in the bunch.

The Doors Other Voices (1971)—3
The Doors
Full Circle (1972)—

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