Perception Box Set
t’s not like I knew any better. You’re stuck in the Midwest, you look up to your significantly older brother, and then he thrusts an album into your hands that swings from German drinking songs to bluesy vamps to avant-garde Oedipal rants in the span of forty-five minutes. How else are you gonna react? And with the first stirrings of a completist streak rearing its ugly head? Forget it. The Doors stole my heart. Over time—through the strong efforts of people such as Oliver Stone, Ray Manzarek, and nearly every single music critic ever—I wrested it back. But for a brief period, they were it.
It’s easy to hate a band fronted by a guy who believed that an Indian’s soul entered his body as a seven year-old. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves: that’s the fourth album. Altogether, the Perception box contains all six studio albums recorded with Morrison. Each comes with an accompanying DVD of extras. Most have two live performances, which yield little insight or entertainment value. The draw here is two-fold: remasters overseen by the band (and, yes, they sound great) and extras tacked on to each disc. (Want to hear twenty-five minutes of “Roadhouse Blues” takes? You won’t be disappointed.)
The Doors first two albums are of a piece: each feature an unimpeachable classic or two (“Break On Through,” “Light My Fire,” “Strange Days”), a lengthy closer (“The End,” “When the Music’s Over”), and a few slightly embarrassing pop bids (“I Looked at You,” “Unhappy Girl,” “My Eyes Have Seen You,” “Take It as It Comes”). It’s not hard to see why. No one in the band had a job in the year leading up to the recording of The Doors, leaving the group ample time to work up a strong catalogue of songs. It was on the group’s third album, Waiting for the Sun, where it became apparent that well was starting to run dry. The pop asides were slighter, gone was the lengthy closer (included here as an extra is an assembled take of “Celebration of the Lizard,” what was intended to be the entire second side of the album), and the experiments that had worked so well on Strange Days (“Horse Latitudes”) came out bloated (“My Wild Love”) and trite (“Yes, the River Knows”).
Clearly the group’s most ridiculous album, The Soft Parade is also the group’s most misunderstood. Most critics claim it was the group’s pop bid, citing the addition of strings and brass, but reports of the Doors’ dicklessness were grossly understated: Morrison proved it in the most literal way possible while touring in advance of the record in March. The big problem here is Kreiger, who wrote a third of the album by his lonesome. Left to his own devices, the halfro-ed guitarist ends up doing embarrassing Dylan impressions over a hoe-down (“Runnin’ Blue”), forcing Morrison to channel Sinatra (“Tell All the People”), and turning in perhaps the band’s most forgettable track in a career littered with “asides” (“Wishful Sinful”). The frizzy-haired one makes up for just about all of it with one riff (“Wild Child”) and some hot licks (“The Soft Parade”), but with Morrison only offering up the sped-up Lawrence Welk polka “Easy Ride,” things got dire fast.
If you believe Bruce Botnick’s liners to Morrison Hotel, you’d think things didn’t get much better. He invokes Bismarck, calls it a “transitional period,” and bitterly points out that making music eventually becomes a “day job.” Botnick blames it on a lack of material and producer Paul Rothchild’s perfectionism. But it’s hard to say that the band would’ve ever come up “Peace Frog”—probably the catchiest track ever written about Indians scattered on dawn’s highway bleeding—otherwise. It’s so catchy that it even earns the two-minute outro of “Blue Sunday” in which Morrison lets us know that, yes, “my girl is mine.” Sure, “Indian Summer” and “Waiting for the Sun” are from previous sessions, but when you’ve got the skiffling “Land Ho!” rubbing up against the turgid blues of “The Spy,” it all comes out in the wash.
Botnick’s liners are equally as instructive when talking about L.A. Woman, the final album collected here. On the first day of sessions for the record, Rothchild reacted to the first take of “Riders on the Storm” by putting his head in his hands and repeating the words, “I can’t do this anymore.” Calling it “cocktail jazz” and thinking the sessions would be as painfully drawn out as Hotel, Rothchild quit. Botnick took the reins, suggested they record the thing in their rehearsal studio in six days (“just like when the world was created,” Botnick helpfully notes), and the rest is history. “Riders” is cocktail jazz, but the rest is unimpeachable: “Been Down So Long” and “Cars Hiss By Window” are two sides of a depressed coin and lead to the boozy catharsis of the title track.
In reviews of this set, critics have pointed to a number of artists that took cues from the Doors (Patti Smith’s poetics, Iggy Pop and his unhinged live performances, whatever the hell Ian Curtis got out of it). But, on a musical level, the group has never been replicated. Whether you’re relieved by this or lamenting it, it’s a fact.