Right from the start the Doors had perfected their signature sound, a proto-goth brand of dark psychedelia that makes Jefferson Airplane look timid by comparison. Their tenebrous vision was unlike anything encountered in the realm of rock before, a revolutionary new atmosphere that permeates the entire album, even transfiguring relatively innocuous pop numbers like I Looked At You and Take It As It Comes into ominous, threatening fare.
Better still, the band never relies on this caliginous vibe to mask a lack of musical substance; they were already eminently accomplished songwriters, penning gorgeous, stately ballads (The Crystal Ship), catchy pop (Twentieth Century Fox), menacing rockers (Break On Through) and incredible, anthemic jams (Light My Fire). While the aforementioned I Looked At You and Take It As It Comes are somewhat pedestrian fare when contrasted against the album's stronger material, they hardly detract from the experience, merely sounding somewhat out of place on an LP that generally eschews the songwriting conventions of their times.
One of the more significant failings of the album arrives with the epic closer (which was employed to great effect in Coppola's Apocalypse Now) The End, a protracted suite of phantasmagorical imagery. It's actually an excellent song as long as it retains its musical focus, but it inevitably devolves into a desultory tempest of dissonance and episodic monologues, meandering from section to section while fully divorced from its musical foundation. While Morrison's poetry is intriguing it's hardly enough to sustain a nearly twelve minute song, and it quickly becomes a case of excess and masturbatory self-indulgence. Were it trimmed down with a greater emphasis on its haunting minimalistic theme it could be a minor masterpiece, but as it stands it's simply a parade of bloated avant garde musings, intriguing but hardly enjoyable.
Fortunately the rest of the album easily compensates for this discordant burst of performance art. The band preserves their trademark dark mysticism throughout, even infusing it into the album's two covers, Alabama Song and Back Door Man, both of which sound excellent when adapted to the style of the group. They truly sound like Doors songs, and very good ones at that.
Highlights abound. The opener, Break On Through, somehow tanked as a single, but the reason for this eludes me as it's a great driving rocker that kicks the album off with a potent adrenaline rush, while the hypnotic The Crystal Ship proves that the Doors sound can be used to achieve sonic beauty as well as morbid aural textures. Light My Fire boasts some superb organ and guitar solos that are sadly excised from the single version, while End Of The Night is an eerie psychedelic dirge.
The famed interplay between Manzarek's organ and Krieger's guitar is already in place, and the band simply have an exceptional chemistry with one another, effortlessly evoking an immersive bleak, foreboding atmosphere with their tight, precise instrumentation. This excellent musicianship is immeasurably enhanced by its key component, Morrison's hypnotic vocals, which inject a haunting quality into each and every track.
Overall The Doors is an excellent debut, a case where a group fully understood their strengths and ambitions from the very beginning, crafting a dark masterpiece that would redefine what the medium was capable of. The songwriting is already superb, as are the performances, with every sound being imbued with the dark, mysterious essence of the band. The album casts a spell over the listener, fully engulfing them within their menacing atmosphere with no wrong notes or stylistic divergences to break up the effect of this unified, cohesive sound. This isn't to say that the album is monotonous or lacks diversity, it merely adapts each genre it tackles into their own unique style, preserving the potent effect of their unnerving sound. Aside from a few nagging issues (the ordeal of The End and the overly slight I Looked At You and Take It As It Comes) the album is immaculate, a true classic that instantly established the group as one of the greatest bands of their times.
Given that it was released the same year as the debut it's unsurprising that Strange Days is ostensibly more of the same, but that's only because the group had already found their niche and thus knew in which directions to focus their efforts. The Doors had a unique voice and, while it would certainly change over time, it never drifted that far from the style established on their eponymous debut. This doesn't signify that the group was uncreative or stagnant, it simply illustrates that they had a profound understanding of their strengths and how best to utilize them.
Ergo it's not a problem that Strange Days is rather reminiscent of their debut, as their songwriting is as strong as ever and their performances remain top notch. If anything the album unleashes its darkness in an even more concentrated form, with no pop interludes like Twentieth Century Fox to dilute it. The tracks are uniformly haunting and ominous, with no reprieve from this onslaught of tenebrosity.
The album is not flawless, as it contains Horse Latitudes, the band's worst song to this point (if it can be termed a 'song,' as it's essentially a poetic monologue from Morrison that's thankfully not given much time; at least its innate darkness preserves the overall tone of the album so it's not too jarring a transition), but otherwise it's an unimpeachably strong set list.
Like its predecessor it opens with a dark rocker, in this case the title track complete with its catchy riff and murky echoes of Morrison's menacing vocals. Once again this is clever track sequencing, as it immediately hooks the listener into the album with its forceful rocking and primal momentum.
From there the tracks range from haunting ballads (You're Lost Little Girl, complete with some of Morrison's most unsettling vocals) to stunning rockers (My Eyes Have Seen You) to the classic riff propelled Love Me Two Times.
The album also demonstrates the correct way to do an epic closer with When The Music's Over, which actually boasts musical progression with catchy melodies accompanying nearly every section. Unlike The End it never flirts with dissonance, and its hallucinogenic poetry is far more restrained and thus more palatable than its predecessor.
The album's true masterpiece, however, is the dark anthem People Are Strange, a short, compact dose of eerie music and unnerving paranoia. The music is brilliant in its simplicity, and its lyrics and vocals perfectly convey the darkness inherent to the melody. It's one of the very best songs by the group, packing more into its diminutive length than most bands manage to fit into an album.
Thus Strange Days is a true classic, and perhaps the group's finest hour. Between superb songwriting, exceptional performances and an irresistible all encompassing dark atmosphere the album is the very quintessence of the Doors, featuring every facet that makes them one of the greatest bands of all time with only a modicum of filler to mar the experience. The Doors were at their peak on this LP, and while the album is a mere 35 minutes it's as substantial a musical statement as they come.
Released shortly in the wake of the band's first two outings, Waiting For The Sun suffers from third album syndrome, meaning that the group had already expended all their best content on its predecessors, leaving a paucity of strong material to compose their subsequent work.
This isn't to say that the songs are universally poor; on the contrary, only a few would qualify as being overtly bad. But much of the material is strikingly average, betraying little of the songwriting brilliance the band had demonstrated on their first two albums.
This situation is profoundly exacerbated by the fact that most of the tracks on the LP are bereft of the dark atmosphere endemic of their earlier work. In the past even when a song was lacking it could be redeemed via its haunting vibe, but on Waiting For The Sun, more often than not, the tracks are devoid of the ominous mysticism that defined albums like Strange Days, coming across as far more innocuous, conventional rock and pop fare.
While there's nothing wrong with a band varying their sound, the Doors' stylistic departures simply fail to capture what made the group unique, replacing their idiosyncrasies with bland genericism. The Doors had made a name for themselves by sounding unlike anything else one could encounter in that era of rock, and by shedding the trappings of their tenebrous personality they sacrificed their identity and relegated themselves to the status of purveyors of standard, derivative fare.
This musical paradigm shift could be warranted if the resulting material was sufficiently strong, but by and large it's resoundingly unexceptional, leading to unremarkable ballads like Love Street and Summer's Almost Gone. Even when they try to vary their content the band goes awry, hence the grating My Wild Love and the would-be exotic Spanish Caravan. The only true instance of a clear cut success in this mold is the catchy pop opener Hello, I Love You, which still hardly constitutes a classic by any measure.
Unsurprisingly the quality is raised dramatically when they revert to their macabre roots. Thus the dark rocker Not To Touch The Earth, an excerpt from the epic Celebration Of The Lizard suite (which was thankfully omitted from the album), recaptures the glorious magic of the band, while the menacing closer, Five To One, boasts a great riff and a violent edge.
Ergo the album is most certainly not without its merits. When the band recalls their classic sound the LP excels much like its predecessors, but when it becomes mired in more derivative rock stylistics it loses the magic that animates the better material of the group. Nonetheless, at least a modicum of enjoyment can be educed even from the more nondescript tracks, and the highlights are sufficiently worthy that I won't condemn the album as being anything less than pretty good. Were the band to continue in this direction they most assuredly would have failed, but thankfully this is an isolated incident, caused by their first two efforts being so excellent that there was little inspiration (or extra material from their original sessions) left over to sustain their third venture.
By 1969 Morrison's condition was rapidly deteriorating as a repercussion of his rampant narcotic excesses, thus impeding his functions as an active member of the band. Thus due to Morrison's impaired creative faculties it became incumbent upon Krieger to step up and assume his place as de facto chief songwriter for the group, a shift in the band's hierarchy that induced radical changes in the Doors' output.
Predictably, however, these changes were not positive ones, as Krieger's brand of songwriting is completely incompatible with the group's musical identity. Not only was the band's inherent darkness largely dispelled, but furthermore their very mode of creative expression was compromised, with Krieger's derivative, primitive melodies supplanting the group's usual imaginative, idiosyncratic ones.
Some of Krieger's songs are at least mildly catchy, but in a much more basic, generic sense than one familiar with the group is accustomed to. Thus the album's big hit Touch Me revels in its cliché ridden structure, the type of song that will become irrevocably lodged in your mental jukebox no matter how diligently you attempt to extricate it. The melody is catchy, but the song is derivative in the extreme, and while this is likely its intention it doesn't negate the fact that the track is nearly the antithesis of everything positive and unique about the group.
Ergo it became beholden upon Morrison to save the album from Krieger's relentless onslaught of sonic effluvia with some material more in keeping with the band's usual tone. While his songwriting collaboration with Krieger, the grating Do It, and one of his self-penned ventures, the sub par Easy Ride, fail to make much of an impression (or perhaps merely not a very positive one), this is more than compensated for by his other three offerings.
Both Shaman's Blues and Wild Child are stellar riff rockers suffused with the band's signature atmosphere and would fit in comfortably on albums like Strange Days. While they're in the minority here they're sufficiently strong that they salvage what would otherwise be a dismal record with their tenebrous mysticism, memorable melodies and plentiful hooks.
It's on moments such as these that Morrison displays his true vocal powers, as on this outing he predominantly sounds uncomfortable singing Krieger's inane lyrics and trying to pass them off as true Doors fare.
Fortunately one's final impression of the album will be a deeply positive one as it ends with yet another multi-part suite, in this case the epic title track. Progressing through myriad strong melodies, the song embodies everything about the Doors that the Krieger penned tracks lack, from its irresistible dark atmosphere to its menacing vocals to its creative melodies to its intriguing lyrics. It ends the album on a considerably strong note, ensuring that this is what the listener will retain as opposed to Krieger's perpetual mediocrity.
Thus, on the strength of the Morrison composed tracks alone, the album is a pretty good outing. As indicated by The Soft Parade and its immediate predecessor the band's problems only arise when they stray too far from their innate strengths, and as long as they retain their focus and rely on Morrison for the songwriting they'll continue to succeed.
As I'd stated before, the Doors went awry when they eschewed their strengths in favor of adopting styles that simply weren't compatible with their identity. This did not, however, mean that the group should remain static, generating an armada of Strange Days rehashes as they succumbed to the allure of mass stagnation.
On Waiting For The Sun problems arose when the group endeavored to produce more mainstream, accessible fare, pop songs that had nothing to do with the band or their legacy, whereas on The Soft Parade the Doors were guided through their transformation by Krieger, who was simply unequipped to lead the group.
Thus Morrison Hotel is the first reinvention of the Doors that's a resounding success, switching modes while retaining the primary strengths of the band. The group's paradigm of choice this time around is a blend of bluesy roots rock, a genre which Krieger, Manzarek and Densmore certainly had the chops to execute flawlessly.
While the resulting sound is obviously a vast departure from their earlier work, the dark spirit of the group is preserved, albeit manifesting itself in a very different form. Tracks like the minimalistic The Spy cultivate the same level of menace that their more overtly tenebrous songs on Strange Days evoked, while Peace Frog's lyrical bloodlust is on par with any older offerings.
Most important, however, is the fact that the group's brilliant songwriting has been translated one hundred percent intact into this new genre. In terms of the aforementioned tracks, The Spy is a haunting blues song with a profoundly unsettling riff repeating throughout its duration, while Peace Frog, with its croak-imitating wah-wah guitar licks, is a classic that manages to sound excellent without being reminiscent of any previous entries in the group's catalogue.
Other highlights include the displaced Waiting For The Sun, whose status as an outtake is truly mystifying as it's an incredible song with a brilliant contrast between its mellow verses and crushing, ominous guitar riff, while the opener Roadhouse Blues is, as the title would suggest, a terrific blues romp.
While there is a modicum of filler, like the bland Indian Summer, nearly every track has something to offer, with myriad hooks generously distributed throughout the album. The group's signature sound may have been transfigured into a new style, but that doesn't prevent the band from finding new ways to convey a dark, foreboding atmosphere, one as striking, potent and irresistible as anything the group could muster in the past.
Thus Morrison Hotel is a true masterpiece, converting the Doors spirit into a new form without sacrificing any aspects of the group's innate persona. The songwriting is impeccable, the instrumentation tight and focused and Morrison's vocals in top form. The transition from the pseudo-tribal mysticism of Morrison's contributions on The Soft Parade to the bluesy roots rock of Morrison Hotel is a swift and painless one, being accomplished with skill and precision by a group that may have a new sound but have retained their old voice.
On L.A. Woman the Doors descend deeper into the realm of blues, resulting in a product that, while not on par with its predecessor, is still a superb addition to the band's discography.
While some might argue that the blues are not the band's forte, on Morrison Hotel they established that they were eminently capable of delivering a convincing blues performance, albeit one distinctly imbued with the group's musical essence as opposed to a thoroughly authentic recreation of the genre.
One disparity between L.A. Woman and Morrison Hotel is that while the latter often operated under the trappings of the blues modality it tended to relegate the blues component of the songs to mere facets of the tracks while not aspiring to contain true blues outings; on the former this is no longer the case, as tracks like Been Down So Long and Cars Hiss By My Window are most assuredly attempts at delivering true, pure blues performances, with the band even going so far as to cover John Lee Hooker's classic blues workout Crawling King Snake.
While this adherence to hardcore blues aesthetics somewhat limits some of the tracks, songs like the previously mentioned Been Down So Long, Cars Hiss By My Window and Crawling King snake are all highly entertaining blues outings, with the band sounding perfectly suited to the tracks. While there are certainly some middling blues romps, like the opener The Changeling, more often than not the group hits their mark, and the classic blues atmosphere evoked certainly isn't incompatible with the band's dark image.
Furthermore, not all the songs present are products of this flirtation with the blues. Love Her Madly is a beautiful, despairing ballad with an excellent vocal melody and superb keyboard work from Manzarek, L.A. Woman is a terrific multi-part suite with a procession of hyper catchy segments while Riders On The Storm, the album's best cut, is a haunting epic with ominous double tracked vocals that's fully infused with the darkness that had always typified the band.
None of the remaining songs are up to the standard of those three, but nearly all remain quite good, from the dark L'America which boasts a strong riff and some juvenile humor to the pretty Hyacinth House to the surreal The Wasp (Texas Radio And The Big Beat).
Overall L.A. Woman is a very good outing, a fitting swansong for the Morrison era of the band (as he met his demise shortly after the album was released); it also should have been the swansong for the band proper, but sadly this wasn't to be the case. Nonetheless, L.A. Woman features a series of great blues workouts along with some excellent songwriting, making the album another classic, and while it may push the blues direction further than some may like it still never loses sight of what made the Doors a great band.
Amazingly enough, the band's first post-Morrison endeavor, Other Voices, is far from a terrible album. On the contrary, it sounds like a fundamentally competent, albeit generic product. But the fact of the matter is that the Doors used to be a one of a kind group, so seeing them as just another faceless, halfway decent rock outfit out of countless others is a painful experience for fans of the band forced to face the fact that their beloved heroes are irrevocably consigned to the ranks of a limitless number of mediocre acts that should have been aborted long before.
The band does aspire to recapture their magic of old, and in some departments they manage, or nearly manage, this feat. Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore remain eminently skillful musicians, so the quality of the instrumentation is never a concern. Manzarek attempts to emulate Morrison's voice, but this is akin to Collins' mimicry of Gabirel once the latter bowed out of Genesis, a serviceable impersonation that nonetheless pales in comparison to the real thing. Even so Manzarek's vocals aren't amongst the main defects of the album, and can easily be tolerated once you've adjusted to them.
Other Voices' primary defect is that it simply doesn't sound like a Doors album. A mere half year had passed and the trio had already wholly lost the essence of the group. The songwriting is hardly abysmal but it completely lacks the spirit of the band, and the melodies aren't sufficiently strong to compensate for that problem.
It had already been demonstrated on The Soft Parade that when Krieger assumed the role of the main songwriter the group lost their identity, and here, with no Morrison to fall back upon, the situation is greatly exacerbated. On this outing Densmore and especially Manzarek also step up and aid Krieger in the songwriting department, but the band is simply incapable of recapturing the spirit that had animated them for years, leaving a procession of inert, derivative fare that rather than sounding like a poor man's Doors simply don't sound like the Doors at all.
There are occasional signs of life in the band. The opener, In The Eye Of The Sun, is a solid track, containing a catchy riff courtesy of Manzarek while Krieger adds some effective wah-wah solos. Truth be told few of the tracks are overtly bad, they're merely resoundingly unspectacular, bereft of either personality or strong melodic craftsmanship.
Thus Other Voices is a somewhat decent outing for a standard rock band, and a terrible outing for the Doors. The group has been stripped of everything that made them special; the Doors of the Morrison era are permanently gone, and there's small solace to be derived from the well intentioned efforts of the remaining members.
The album simply should not have been made, or at least not been made under the Doors' moniker. If one banishes thoughts of their prior works from his mind he may be able to educe at least a modicum of enjoyment from these perfectly decent rock excursions, but with Manzarek trying to ape Morrison's vocals and Krieger attempting to replicate the past glory of the band this is a difficult feat to execute.
Regrettably the poor reception of Other Voices didn't inspire the group to abandon their post-Morrison escapades, as they adhered to their usual schedule and released Full Circle one year later as if their frontman's death had never happened.
Unfortunately this outing proved even weaker than their previous one; once again the emphasis is on happy pop that's wholly removed from the group's erstwhile identity, and when they do attempt to rekindle their old dark magic they end up sounding forced and artificial, closer to Alice Cooper at his most comically theatrical than the original Doors.
The opener, Get Up And Dance, threatens to single-handedly destroy the group's legacy with its inane lyrics and bouncy, danceable music. Many of the other songs are comparably vomit inducing, utterly anathema to anyone who loved the Morrison incarnation of the band.
At least the material on Other Voices was decent enough for what it was, a critical betrayal of their former style but still perfectly acceptable from a qualitative perspective. On Full Circle most of the content is poor even when divorced from Morrison-era contrasts, turning the album into an irredeemable debacle.
The album isn't bereft of merit, however. The Piano Bird is pretty, with a solid melody and above average vocals from Manzarek, and a few other tracks also have their hooks in the right places, but overall the material tends toward the bad end of the spectrum, songs that have nothing to do with the Doors in any respect, either stylistically or qualitatively.
As alluded to before, the attempts at reviving the darker side of the band yield laughable results, from the mediocre 4 Billion Souls to Verdilac, which is comparatively decent but still sounds like a diluted, defanged version of the group, a cheap imitation rather than the real thing.
It's truly fortunate that the band disbanded shortly after the critical crucifixion of the album, as they were caught in a downward spiral and would simply have continued to deteriorate at an alarming rate. They already bore no resemblance to the classic Doors, and even their songwriting skills were continually eroding. One could accuse them of having degenerated into self-parody, but the truth is they were scarcely even attempting to sound like their old selves, hence the term parody is a misnomer. They had simply become a generic, derivative rock group, and a progressively poor one at that.
Dead rock stars are seldom allowed to rest in peace. Greedy record company moguls and surviving bandmates will invariably find an excuse, no matter how flimsy, for a posthumous release, mercilessly raiding the dead artist's vaults for anything that can be even remotely construed as a song. It's a sign of true desperation, however, when the vultures seize upon material that can't even be termed a 'song' by any reasonable definition of the word, ultimately releasing a product that scarcely qualifies as music at all.
Jim Morrison had always suffered from the delusion that he was a poet, but one could at least derive solace from the fact that this love of verse primarily manifested it in the context of actual rock songs, complete with stunning melodies and impeccable vocals. While he undeniably fancied himself as a master wordsmith he never succumbed to the temptation to release his poetry independently of his rock albums, apparently recognizing that to do so would be the height of self-indulgence and masturbatory excess.
However, while he could control this side of himself in life, everything was out of his hands once he met his demise at the age of 27. Lacking any more Morrison-era Doors song to profit off of, and realizing the futility of creating any more rock and roll abominations themselves, Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore decided to appropriate recordings of The Lizard King himself reciting his poetry, theoretically setting them to music and releasing the results as something vaguely resembling a rock album.
When even the poet himself recognized this as a bad idea, one has a pretty clear indication of just how awful a listening experience these recitals will be. The sonic backdrops haphazardly slapped onto the recordings barely constitute music at all, generally consisting of basic beats and primitive melodies, leaving the recitals themselves as the main attraction.
Needless to say this is a recipe for disaster. Morrison's lyrical inadequacies could be disguised, to some extent, during rock songs, but when taken on an individual level this poetry is simply abysmal, lacking anything even vaguely reminiscent of wit, cleverness or insight.
Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore do basically nothing to salvage the situation. Beyond the rudimentary instrumental fidgeting I alluded to, the only real music on An American Prayer arrives in the form of samples from classic Doors songs seemingly arbitrarily inserted into different junctures on the album. While these are passages of terrific songs, in this context they hold little value and merely serve to expose how tepid the 'new' material on the album is.
There is one recitation (actually more than one, as the track is repeated) that actually qualifies as a 'song,' but it offers little in the way of value beyond the novelty value of genuine music appearing on the album. Entitled Ghost Song, it's basically just another mediocre poem that happens to be set to a standard disco melody. The lyrics and music don't gel, and even if they did they're both abominable anyway so there's little in the way of an upside to the whole affair.
Fortunately there is one strong track on the album, and it proves sufficient to elevate An American Prayer from the dreaded 0 rating it so richly deserves. Admittedly this song has no logical reason to be on the album save rewarding the listener for his continuing endurance, but I certainly won't object to its presence.
The track in question is an old live rendition of Roadhouse Blues, boasting a blistering performance and a Hendrix-esque self-eulogy from Morrison at the end. The song may not belong on the album, but I'm still grateful that it's there.
Thus An American Dream is a simply dreadful album with very little in the way of redeeming value. There are plenty of impressive renditions of Roadhouse Blues available elsewhere, so that track hardly merits a purchase in and of itself. The album makes the two post-Morrison efforts seem like high quality material, and that alone should be enough to deter any prospective buyers from subjecting themselves to this aural ordeal.
Rarities collections tend to be marketed toward hardcore fans, the kind of diehard, obsessive completists who can't endure the notion of being deprived of a single chord progression from their favorite rock act.
There are, however, exceptions to this rule. One such mitigating circumstance would be if a band or artist had such a short career that they produced only a modicum of material before their retirement, permanent or otherwise.
This phenomenon has spurred on the sales of such rock icons as Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and Ian Curtis. This has led to commercially successful posthumous works that eclipse the sales of many current (and very much alive) bands.
The Doors can be seen as the poster-boys for this dynamic. Having released a mere six albums prior to Morrison's untimely demise, the band were very much in their prime at the time of his passing, with an unspoken promise to their audience of myriad future masterpieces. These fans were frenziedly anticipating more material, and The Doors' insipid post-Morrison work was hardly apt to appease them.
Thus it was inevitable that The Doors would release a rarities collection, capitalizing on the fans' hunger for more content from a group that had let them down in the quantity department.
In order to sate the appetites of these fans (or exploit them, depending on one's perspective), the record label responded with a grand gesture, a three-disc box-set containing a plethora of previously unreleased material. Thankfully the company also kept their more budget-conscious patrons in mind, issuing a one-disc summary of that sprawling behemoth. Entitled Essential Rarities, the CD encompasses an array of demos, live cuts and completely new (for fans, that is) tracks.
Rarities collections tend to be erratic, but Essential Rarities is remarkably consistent, as even its weaker moments still prove invaluable from a historical perspective.
The live tracks are uniformly strong, from an energetic rendition of Break On Through, complete with a new slow-build intro courtesy of a terrific Manzarek performance, to a rousing run-through of Roadhouse Blues.
Many have dismissed or openly derided the live version of The Soft Parade, feeling that it's been irreparably damaged by its lack of overdubbing, but while it may lose some of the bite of the original it remains a stellar song that's adroitly handled, particularly when one factors in the inherent limitations of performing the song in a live environment.
The Soft Parade isn't the only epic present on the album, as Essential Rarities also includes what may be the definitive performance of The End. The song manages to feel tighter than the studio version despite being considerably longer, as the recording captures the band at a particularly inspired moment, breathing new life into an already classic song.
The demos may not be first tier Doors material, but they tend to be rather revelatory about the progression of the band over the course of their all too short careers. Hyacinth House actually sounds great in a stripped down format, while Queen Of The Highway presents the band in good form.
The tracks that emerge as the most historically significant, however, are two very old demos, namely Moonlight Drive and Hello, I Love You. These two cuts are perfect demonstrations of how essential the classic Doors-sound is to Morrison and company's output. While the tracks feature melodies, lyrics and hooks that are identical to the later studio versions, the songs feel nothing like the renditions that Doors fans are accustomed to. Without the band injecting their signature vibe into the material the songs are simply catchy, innocent, insubstantial pop, devoid of any greater purpose, meaning or significance. It's truly fascinating to contrast these demos with their studio versions, witnessing how the Doors spirit can transfigure the banal and mundane into atmospheric works of art.
There's also a healthy selection of never-before-heard songs. Who Scared You is gothic blues as only the Doors could produce, whereas Woman Is A Devil is blues that virtually anyone could produce. The song is perfectly competent, but it does little to differentiate itself from any traditional blues standard. This was the intent of the band, however, so it's difficult to fault them in that department, and Morrison handling vocals is an asset to nearly any song.
I Will Never Be Untrue is rather pedestrian and generic, the type of padding that usually constitutes the entirety of a rarities collection but stands out as a poor selection on a superior album of this nature. Someday Soon, however, is eminently worthy of inclusion on the disc, complete with its foreboding moodiness and low-keyed sense of menace.
Orange County Suite is a darkly beautiful composition, dripping with sadness and pathos and a type of sincerity that's a rare commodity on a Doors album. The collection's finest moment, however, is Whiskey, Mystics And Men, wherein Morrison once again plays the part of the shaman and orates a bleak tale, a tenebrous narrative relayed through the medium of a stellar vocal melody. The track exudes tension and dark atmospherics, and is further enhanced by its minimalistic charm.
Thus Essential Rarities is a surprisingly strong product, and a welcome alternative to paying for a gratuitously expensive box-set. Containing superb live cuts, intriguing demos and a handful of lost gems, the album is everything one could wish for from a rarities set, and a fine addition to anyone's Doors collection.