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Monday, February 20, 2012

The Doors LA Woman— A Dark Storm

"People fear death even more than pain. It's strange that they fear death. Life hurts a lot more than death. At the point of death, the pain is over. Yeah, I guess it is a friend." —Jim Morrison



The Doors’ career was indeed a peculiar one. Few bands have travelled as deep into the darkest corners of rock as The Doors and few have managed to live to tell about it. Beginning as a fairly standard Los Angeles R&B and blues band— their cover of Them’s Gloria was always a live highpoint— they entered the national consciousness as a pop group, thanks to the catchiness of singles like Hello, I Love You and the raw brooding unbridled sexuality of singer Jim Morrison. As time went by— which it did in LSD-slowed rapidity in those days— The Doors evolved into something far more complex, all baroque and improvisational with lyrics about lizard kings and oedipal murder. Morrison understood the power of the experience and pushed the psychosexual boundaries as far as he could. If the sixties was a time of liberation and sudden surging sexual freedoms then this frontman was going to see how far he could take them. Essentially, a Doors concert experience became a slice of surreal performance art, the unexpected was always expected. Morrison’s behavior became more extreme, and he was well on the path to becoming a rock legend, being arrested, and finally, just before the release of this album, retiring from live performance and moving to Paris. There he died, in the summer of 1971, just weeks after this album’s release. His grave has been a flame to Morrison fans ever since.



L.A. Woman, the album he left behind— the last record by The Doors with their original singer (since then they’ve worked with everyone from Ian McCulloch to Ian Astbury; and they even, according to Astbury, tried out Iggy Pop)— is, perhaps surprisingly, one of their best. Of its 10 tracks, six are regularly featured on compilations and three or four are certifiable classics. The title-track is a rocker so brilliant it forms the chassis of Billy Idol’s White Wedding, and is the speediest epic The Doors ever put on vinyl; elsewhere, there’s the gorgeous, tumbling Love Her Madly, and the grungey The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat). And, of course, this set houses that favorite of backpacking European students everywhere, Riders on the Storm, which dominated American FM radio in the 1970s and continues to do so.



With Morrison at the helm, the band was constantly on the cutting edge of genuis disguised as madness. Morrison was someone with a high IQ who was bored of the sedentary life. He was taking his influences from places in culture that the previously more lightweight world of pop had rarely looked. Modelling his hair as a tribute to Alexander the Great, he answered probing journalistic questions by referring the integrator to heavyweight books from dark philosophers like Nietzsche. Even his leather clad look a mixture of pony and snakeskin was extreme, His classic "...think of us as erotic politicians" quote instantly defined him and the band and their music— it was quite safe to say that there had never been another rock star like Jim Morrison. 

Perhaps this album’s quality shouldn’t be a shock, though: with a stripped-down yet full sound, a developed mysticism tied tightly to the band’s brand of rock, and confidence born of having been a functioning unit for several years, all the ingredients were in place for a brilliant end product. And, with its harder edge, its hindsight-laden sense of imminent loss and its sheer dirtiness, L.A. Woman comprises a brilliant bridge between the floral madness of the 1960s and the tougher decade to come. This 40th Anniversary Edition features the first official release of She Smells So Nice, a fast blues in the style of Got My Mojo Working, plus never-before-released alternate versions of songs familiar from the original album. So, if you don’t own it already…



You see, in the beginning there were the blues, and at the end, too, so it was for the Doors. No one knew that L.A. Woman would be the final testament of Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore. Recorded at the end of 1970 and early 1971. L.A. Woman is a gritty, exhilarating ride and, like all the Doors' output, at times wonderfully flawed, brutally honest and helplessly indulgent. This 2-CD 40th anniversary edition includes the original album remastered, plus previously unissued alternate takes of familiar album tracks, studio banter and, from the vaults, She Smells So Nice, an unearthed distorto-blues. Rolling Stone writer David Fricke's liner notes and the photos of the Doors (augmented by bassist Jerry Scheff and guitarist Marc Benno) recording in the tightest of confines, together as a band, add to the legend. 

Immediately evident is how much Scheff's bass lines, funky and full of attitude, propelled the reinvigorated (and for the first time, self-produced) band. Krieger's clean, restrained pentatonic runs and eerie electric slide offer counterpoint to Morrison's sexy growl and Manzarek's hypnotic, defining Vox organ and electric piano lines. Cars Hiss By My Window is a totally relaxed gas. Love Her Madly, The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat) and especially the title track remain instantly irresistible. Mid-album Lizard King moments are forgettable, but persevere for the slinky salve of Riders on the Storm and the insider's glimpse offered by disc two, lovely moments of Morrison improvising lyrics and coming up with the thunder sound-effect idea for Storm.



Even now safely separated by 40 years from the Doors original inception on the scene they seem strange and out of place, a brief burning presence eon the music scene a band who influence has been enormous and who star burnt so bright and so briefly.



And that before you even get to the lyrics. Before only Dylan had really got into the world of surealistic messages and strangeness— but Morrison took it one step further with his somber poetry dotted with references to sex and death, infanticide murder doom and gloom, insanity, sexual innuendo and the apocalypse. There was nothing remotely boy meets girl about these songs although they even managed to touch on that as well albeit in a twisted and strange way. They may have been erroneously been lumped in with the hippies but there was nothing peace and love and flowers in your hair about the Doors, their songs oozed a dark passion when others where all skipping along with sweetness and light. The Doors were definitely riders on a very dark storm and Morrison’s lyrics were stuffed full of fantastic dark images and ideas reflecting the true nature of the times when young men were getting sent out to fight an insane colonial war in Vietnam that they barely even understood.

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