CD Review of Morrison Hotel by The Doors

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Morrison Hotel
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Released: 2007
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I’ll be the first to stand in a line of Jim Morrison detractors and shout about what an overrated “artist” the man was. This guy more or less invented emo and Goth at the same time, so let’s deduct major points right there. Kids still like to clamor on about how dark Jimmy was, what a great “poet” he was, and how sensual his troubled darkness remains. Yeah, okay. Some rock and roll bullshit is nothing more, nothing less than the steaming pile it comes across as. When Val Kilmer was Jim Morrison in the hilarious, terrible Oliver Stone flick “The Doors,” I could never separate the two afterward. Kilmer and Morrison, that is. It was a perfect fit. Overbearing, pompous actor plays overbearing, pompous “troubadour of Dionysian elegance.” Here’s where I’m also keyed into to write something derogatory about Morrison and Rimbaud, but we’ll leave it at that.

But as much as I can’t really stand Borrison’s “legacy,” there have always been two Doors albums that I genuinely liked. These being the final two with James, Morrison Hotel and L.A. Woman. You see, when Jim just fully absorbed any bottle of booze he walked by through simple osmosis, he went from sex god to bloated bluesy belter and the change was nothing but for the good. Especially after coming off the musical and lyrical B.M. that was The Soft Parade. The Doors’ Vegas a-go-go album! Still, Elvis Presley must have been taking notes as he went off to Vegas, got bloated, and had the biggest years of his career for years afterward peddling his pallid, second-rate schmaltz to the dinner crowds filled with ladies sporting beehive hairdos and smoking Virginia Slims.

But back to Jimbo. After being pretty much a non-participant on The Soft Parade due to his ego and scheduled fellatio treatments, Morrison and co. wanted to do a Get Back maneuver and just strip away the bullshit and rock out. They were pretty much tapped out of songs that had accumulated over the past releases, so it was pretty much down to new ideas and Jim’s book o’ poetry. And so, they kick things off with “Roadhouse Blues,” as by-the-numbers a blues tune as you can get. Still, it’s not pompous, there aren’t any cornball horns cluttering up the arrangements, and lyrically it’s getting to what Morrison actually knows about instead of what he envisions himself to be.

Of course, that doesn’t stop him from almost derailing the whole thing almost immediately. “Waiting for the Sun” sounds like one last, desperate gasp to suck the remaining fumes from the California Summer of Love that had been going straight to hell after the hippies figured out that they couldn’t fix shit merely by getting stoned and trying to create a cosmic vibration. Thankfully, that’s pretty much it for that charade and things get back to grooving with the funky “You Make Me Real” that makes good use of the tack piano that would figure so prominently on “L.A. Woman.” Now if the boys can just keep it together and not slip up.

It’s hard to argue with “Peace Frog” and its stuttering, rhythmic guitar riff. Culled from Morrison’s poems, the lyrics actually don’t suck, sort of like they wouldn’t yet again when Jimbo worked out “Texas Radio and the Big Beat” on L.A. Woman. Anyone can hear that opening lick and get into it immediately, even if Ray Manzarek’s organ from hell threatens to send it into cheeseball land. Luckily it doesn’t, as the track’s over before it can get frilly.

Of course, let’s not keep a good thing going here. Morrison has to then turn around and lead the band through “Blue Sunday,” in which he sounds like he may or may not be doing a drunken impression of a drunken Dean Martin. Oh, if Jim could have only lived a bit longer to get on one of Dean’s roasts to be skewered by Phillis Diller and Ruth Buzzi. That would have been comedy gold right there. But I digress.

There is really only one more misstep here, and that is “Indian Summer.” Take what I said before about “Waiting for the Sun” and apply it tenfold. This is Jim Morrison loudly humping the peyote/shaman angle for one final hurrah before diving headlong into a bottle of whiskey, never to return to these shallow depths. At least he makes up for it with “Queen of the Highway” and “Maggie M’Gill.”

Since this is one of the newly remastered (yet again) Doors CDs, let’s discuss that aspect of this reissue. Rhino has gone above and beyond with the sound on these things. This is definitely one of those CDs that actually reminds you how fantastic the format can sound when placed in the right hands. This album has a spatial quality in the mix that it didn’t have before, adding a much-appreciated breathing space between the instruments and Jimbo. It’s nothing short of impeccable.

That said, do note that the mixes are different from the “classic” versions of this album. But this isn’t a bad thing, really. At least, not on this album, where Jim’s little shouts and vocal exclamations have been left in here and there. Some people have said the bass is a bit louder in the mix and possibly some other things were added/swapped, but at the end of the day, this thing sounds so much more alive and open that whatever was reinstated from the original masters doesn’t detract from the overall experience.

There’s also a ton of bonus tracks here. If you love “Roadhouse Blues,” then dig hearing it evolve from raw genesis to fully realized version in over 20 minutes’ worth of outtakes. There’s also a second version of “The Spy,” a “jazz version” (ugh) of “Queen of the Highway,” some weird shit called “Money Beats Soul,” a snippet of “Carol,” some uninteresting work tapes of “Peace Frog,” and the piffle that is “Talking Blues.” Obviously, some will find this archival material more fascinating than others. But the bottom line here is that Morrison Hotel sounds better than it ever did, and if you want one of the two really great Doors albums, then check it out, or buy it all over again.

~Jason Thompson