Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Thud and grunt from the rainbow gutter - The Doors' LA Woman

This post is a belated coda to my attempts around the turn of the year to listen to The Doors

At the time, I had only made it as far as album three. The further I moved away from the self-titled first album with its transcendental groove, the more the balance tilted from compelling to unintentionally comic.

I'm here now to report that it may have taken them six albums, but The Doors finally delivered consistently on 1971's LA Woman.

It's known chiefly these days for creepy-listening headphone treat Riders On The Storm, but that's something of a track apart. Forty-five years or so down the line, what the rest of LA Woman sounds like is the best backroom-of-a-pub blues-rock-soul thug stomp of an album you can possible imagine.

All thud and grunt from the rainbow gutter.

Now, describing The Doors at this point as pub-rock ne plus ultra ever might sound like a backhanded compliment. It really isn't - and perhaps it'll become clearer if I explain by comparison. 

When Led Zeppelin were charging through their early albums during the same period, what's striking is how clean, how mannered they sound when you place them next to LA Woman, which essentially draws on many of the same influences in psychedelia and the blues. Led Zeppelin IV - also from 1971 - is a great piece of work, but it's about the flash, polish and technique. 

The Doors have chops too, but they sound dirty. Yes, even Ray Manzarek's organ, that proto-prog signifier. None of which makes them any more or less authentic than Led Zep - it's just a strikingly different arrangement of similar influences. 

This sound - with occasional psych-pop digressions like Riders or Love Her Madly in counterpoint - basically fuels LA Woman. Tracks like The Changeling, Been Down So Long or Crawling King Snake (a John Lee Hooker cover) could come straight from the stage at The Lucky Star Lounge or some other notional small town American music bar. 

Or, closer to home, the Kings Head on Bird Street on a Saturday night.

On this album, Morrison-as-poet takes a back-seat to Morrison the rocker, although his alter ego still breaks on through a couple of times in, for example, The Wasp or L'AmericaInevitably, there are a couple of 'Oh Jimbo! No!' moments of lyrical hypermasculinity that just don't work these days. But overall, it's a positively human Morrison we see here.

So, while most Doors albums don't so much flirt with ridicule as take it to Vegas for a four-day bender followed by a chapel wedding, LA Woman sees them keeping it relatively restrained and personal and all the better for it. It is 'just' four sweating guys in a notional basement kicking out the hermetic jams, with no claims to any cosmic significance. 

But it's the best sweaty basement rock record it can possibly be. And ain't that something?

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