The Doors – [Album]

Monday, 23 January 2012

The peril that every record label faces when they consider reissuing an augmented edition of a record which is already considered a classic is that they run the risk of alienating some fans and/or challenging their perception of it. For some fans of any band, the music is special for them precisely as they first heard it; whether it was including the pops and hisses of a well-worn record, an 8-track, a cassette, a CD or an mp3, the medium can be as important as the music, as can the way it was originally mixed. Every time a classic album has been altered in some way and reissued, the results have been met with some resistance from fans; for example, when EMI reissued a remixed edition of The Stooges' Raw Power (the remix was helmed by Iggy Pop himself), fans complained. Fans also found the reissue of Ozzy Osbourne's Blizzard Of Ozz sorely lacking and looked very closely to see if they'd be able to do the same with the reissued editions of Jimi Hendrix' catalogue released in 2010. In an attempt to nip any possible commotion the campaign might face in the bud, Capitol reissued their painstakingly produced reissues of The Beatles' catalogue in two forms: both in mono and stereo productions. All of this work has been done to re-present classic work – but it is almost impossible to make everyone happy, because sometimes the music is all about the circumstances under which a listener first heard it and what captivated them about the experience in the first place; that is something no updated or augmented edition can replicate.

Because of all that, it could be said that I am either one of the best people to review L.A. Woman, or the worst person in the world to review it. Why? I have been a Doors fan for thirty of my thirty-three years. I can say without hesitation that I know each track on the album inside and out, backwards and forwards; I know this album and love it as much now as I did the first time I heard “Riders On The Storm” years ago. I know it, but I was still shocked by the sound I heard on this remastered deluxe reissue; there were elements that had previously gone buried in the mix which it was now possible to pick out quite plainly. I reveled in those elements; they represented a fresh perspective and were new parts of the album for me to inhabit.

There will certainly be people who complain about this reissue, but I am not one. This is what I heard and what struck me when I threw the L.A. Woman reissue on for the first time.

From the moment “The Changeling” bursts to life and opens this newest incarnation of The Doors' final LP, the adamantine clarity of the production this time can only be qualified as striking. The Doors' albums have always been known for having a bit of grime and haziness on the low end and mid regions of their songs, due in part to the limited production methods employed in the Sixties and early Seventies (AM radio still ruled the day, which meant that while a production could get as adventurous as it wanted, it would still be mixed down to mono) but, here, long-time fans will be floored by the roomier mix (Robby Krieger is now consistently panned to the left channel with Ray Manzarek on the right with Densmore and bassist Jerry Scheff set squarely in the center behind Morrison) which allows for the songs to open up a little more; even right at the beginning of the album, there's some strut to “The Changeling” which can't help but get some heads bobbing and hips swinging. Those vibes continue on into “Love Her Madly,” where the digital remastering helps to really revitalize the harpsichord part in the song and make it sparkle (on previous reissues, it started to sound increasingly dull and anachronistic) before “Been Down So Long” and “Cars Hiss By My Window” slide open the blues breakers and make it possible for The Doors discover a truly timeless and ecstatic moment in the form of “L.A. Woman,” which beams here with the help of digital remastering (it's now possible to hear every microtone of Manzarek's keyboard – both lines where, previously, it was really only possible to hear one – and the true delicacy of Densmore's drums) and will make longtime fans develop a renewed appreciation for the song.

Unlike some of the work which has been done to The Beatles' catalogue and Jimi Hendrix' albums over the last couple of years, it is important to point out that nothing about this new mix is complicated (the structures and styles employed here have been used since records broke out of mono decades ago), but the way it is utilized here – combined with consistently brighter and more vibrant treble tones, clearer mids an crisper low end – breathe some new life into these songs; with a good pair of headphones, it's actually possible for listeners to feel like they're right in the room as the performances get played out before them. That's a bit of magic all on its own, but the added tracks included with the Fortieth Anniversary edition of L.A. Woman add some interesting insight to the actual working practice of the band.

Over the years, a sort of mythology has built up around The Doors (it has been developed and perpetuated by Ray Manzarek and John Densmore, as well as the books they've published about their time both with The Doors and with Jim Morrison) which regularly assumes a mystical and unbelievable air. According to the drummer and keyboardist, tongues of flame have reached down out of the heavens and touched Jim Morrison's lyrical styling to make it timeless  and Robbie Krieger scared the hell out of people when he first produced a bottleneck with which to play his Gibson SG and it has all been very fanciful – but that has been the problem with it; because none of the band's surviving members have ever really agreed on the finer details and assembled them into a definitive account, The Doors' story has been about as tangible as a fairytale for decades. That dogma is finally (and thankfully) upended with this reissue; having unearthed some outtakes from the L.A. Woman sessions, this fortieth anniversary reissue gives The Doors a more human quality which has been much needed for a long, long time.

“How could some outtakes make The Doors human,” you scoff? By showing the truth rather than the popular images associated with the band which have endured for so long. As every fan knows, for example, one of the last images in Oliver Stone's The Doors is of Val Kilmer (as Jim Morrison) knocking out the vocal take for L.A. Woman. Because the vocal has always seemed so loose and off-the-cuff, it has always been easy to believe that story about Morrison knocked it out in the men's room at the recording studio because he liked the natural reverb. That story is one of the things that makes the song so great and it might be true – but the outtake included on the 40th anniversary edition reissue proves that he did it more than once. On disc two, there is a second take of “L.A. Woman” which is ever-so-slightly different from the version that everyone knows, but proves that everything about the song – Morrison's vocal, Manzarek's keyboards, Densmore's drums and Krieger's guitar – were all painstakingly worked out; the only thing that may not have been planned was that moment when Morrison spoke up and said, “Let me do another take of that.” Such is also the case with the “other” takes of “The Wasp” and “Love Her Madly” – the differences between the alternate versions and the finished ones are slight, but they prove that there was a working process behind L.A.Woman which as far more decisive than anyone has ever realized before; in that way, listeners get an insight into the band which is far more valuable than a bunch of half-cooked stories, myth-making exercises or a much-anticipated “lost song” (spoiler alert: that new song, “She Smells So Nice” has gone unreleased for so long because the sound quality is horrible – Morrison's vocals clip regularly through the performance – and the song could be called a work-in-progress at most) –  they get a true look behind the curtain regarding how carefully The Doors have controlled everything their fans know about them. That will prove fascinating for long-time fans, most certainly, and getting a truly pristine presentation of the songs should make the reissued L.A. Woman essential listening for everyone.



The Doors' L.A. Woman 40th Anniversary reissue comes out on January 24, 2012. Pre-order it here on Amazon .

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