CD Review of Perception by The Doors

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Released: 2006
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No matter where you stand on Jim Morrison's position in rock history – falling somewhere on the scale between venerable rock shaman and drug-addled, lewd moron – you gotta admit the Doors had a great, singular sound and some powerful pop tunes in their heyday. Skittish and psychedelic, the band helped define the Sixties when they formed in 1966; it also effectively sounded the end of the Sixties when Parisian authorities removed lead singer Jim Morrison's heroin-numbed carcass from a hotel bathtub in July 1971.

The keyboards were the thing: Ray Manzarek's Fender Rhodes bass and his often shrill organs filling in the rhythm and harmony provided a great sonic changeup to the other heavy stuff on the radio at the time – think Zeppelin and Cream.

A story in the liner notes tells of how longtime producer Paul Rothchild walked out at the beginning of recording sessions of the band's last record, L.A. Woman, pleading fatigue with what he called the band's "cocktail jazz." While this was meant to be a putdown at the time, the producer hit it on the head: The Doors figured out how to manufacture their own part of the Sixties heavy-music soundtrack without diving into the bass-blasting excesses of, say, Deep Purple. That was a great trick.

And therein lies the beauty of the Doors: its sound, and not, contrary to popular belief, its shaman. Jim Morrison, ultimately, isn't the great poet the rock establishment would have us believe. He wasn't even a particularly good poet. Just listen to three or four of these albums back to back, or watch the included video footage. Just a young dude injecting chemicals and screaming for attention.

Taking all the music in at once with this Rhino box set, the Doors were pretty hit-and-miss, mainly because of Morrison's distracting theatrics. His voice was beautiful in tone, expression, and dynamic range, no one can argue with that. His overrated lyrics, much of the time, came out obtuse and confused. Morbidly abstract, if one's feeling charitable. But the band, when it clicked – on tracks like "Touch Me," "Light My Fire," "Peace Frog," or "L.A. Woman" – was absolutely unstoppable.

This box lays out the band's studio output, with a nice selection of key bonus tracks that Doors devotees will be pleased to see included (and some that have been available on boots for years at which they probably will scratch their heads and ask why bother) – in traditional remastered CD format and new advanced-resolution stereo mixes on DVD for the Surround Sound. Particularly interesting are the many takes of "Roadhouse Blues," which show the band at work, jamming away, and really illustrate how essential producers are to a rock band, directing the players and splicing tape (or in this age, bits and bytes) to shape songs from beginning to end. Some of the "Roadhouse" alternate takes are pretty good, but none of them are clearly great – except the finished track that we all have come to recognize from countless FM radio plays. Not included in the box are live albums or the two post-Morrison Doors albums the band put out after his death.

We knew the band could kick out the blues like few others, proven by covers like "Crawling Kingsnake" (L.A. Woman) and "Back Door Man" (The Doors), in addition to their own blues compositions like "Roadhouse Blues." But in the bonus tracks provided with this box, the Doors shows off its appreciation of (and adaptability to) other genres – classical with a rendition of "Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor," the Latin boogaloo with "Push Push," and a fantastic straight-up jazz arrangement of "I Spy." At the time, this material probably would have drawn even harsher criticism hoots from the rock media than the thrashing the band drew for putting out The Soft Parade. Nowadays, with pop music having cycled through funk (Parliament) then sap (America) then hip-hop (Run-D.M.C.) then sap (Whitney Houston) then grunge (Nirvana) and sap (Boyz II Men), sap (N'Sync), and sap (Britney/Christina/Shakira/et al) again, it turns out that the Doors' sap sounds much preferable to, say, Mariah Carey's sap. The Soft Parade doesn't sound that bad, when looking over the sweep of rock history that's transpired since those negative reactions written instantly after its release.

Cocktail jazz, indeed, with a sometimes-coherent madman out front who's been lionized despite his junkie ways. Yet, with its flaws, this box proves Doors' music deserves revisiting.

~Mojo Flucke, PhD