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The Doors: The Soft Parade - 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition

Doug Collette By

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The 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of The Doors' The Soft Parade might well be reconfigured to a great degree without sacrificing its multi-configuration format. In doing so, this milestone package would then even more vividly depict this turbulent period in the iconic band's history. Even as it is, however, the existing combination of compact disc and vinyl brings clarity to a controversial entry in the Doors' early discography.

Given that the previously-unreleased content on CD two runs roughly forty minutes, it could have been readily combined on a single compact disc with the nine tracks of the original album (newly-remastered to pristine effect for this set by original engineer Bruce Botnick). That way, reprogramming of the cuts, with and without new overdubs from guitarist Robbie Krieger, would allow for the integration of the "Doors-only" content new to this milestone edition (including the b-side of a single "Who Scared You"), juxtaposed with those others left unfettered by Paul Harris' utterly conventional brass and string charts .

Such customization is revisionism to be sure. But it is a positive sort because it offers an alternative perspective on a work rightly considered an anomaly in the Doors' oeuvre. Extensive but otherwise predictable instrumentation only partially clouds the lack of inspiration afflicting the quartet in 1968 and 1969, the malaise of which dominates this CD three: "Chaos" is the appropriately titled closing, immediately preceded by the meandering "Rock Is Dead." Extending over an hour, the musicians, including bassist Harvey Brooks, repeatedly threaten to catch fire on this prolonged improv, but they never actually do.

As such, that widely-bootlegged piece is a metaphor for the stasis afflicting the Doors at this juncture of their career. Touring extensively in 1968 to capitalize on the roaring commercial success of their third album Waiting For The Sun (Elektra, 1968)—and its vacuous hit single "Hello I Love You"—the quartet's vocalist/composer Jim Morrison found little inspiration to compose new material, and so he encouraged Krieger to pick up the slack. And with the legal fallout from that fateful night in Miami weighing heavily on the frontman, his continuing descent into substance abuse only furthered his disenchantment with the celebrity status arising from the group's stardom.

Those factors thus moved producer Paul A. Rothchild to experiment with more extravagant production. To be fair, following The Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Capitol, 1967), use of intricate sonic arrangements had become de rigeur prior to the recording of this fourth Doors LP . But the one-two punch of the first numbers taped for the project, "Wild Child" and "Wishful Sinful," was subsequently hampered as the latter received a backdrop of strings that failed to conjure a tranquil counterpoint to the vivid visceral atmosphere of its counterpart.

Similarly saccharine touches reappeared on "Touch Me," effectively dampening the overly-polite erotic undercurrent of the lyrics. But saxophonist Curtis Amy's blistering solo, so evocative of the halcyon days of cool West Coast jazz, combined with the furious drive of drummer John Densmore toward the end of the performance, ignited at least a flash of the spontaneous combustion of the Doors' musicianship as preserved on their eponymous debut album and its superior sophomore successor in the same year, Strange Days (Elektra, 1967).

On the aforementioned sixty-minute plus jam, heretofore never formally released in its entirety, the Doors and their already high-profile sideman do make a valiant attempt to connect with the muse. Yet the various routes to potential inspiration are eventually all for naught, including Elvis Presley's "Mystery Train," the torch song "Fever" (made famous by Peggy Lee but also covered by The King), and even a pair of their own numbers, "Not To Touch the Earth" (that excerpt from "Celebration of the Lizard") and "You Make Me Real," which would appear on Morrison Hotel (Elektra, 1970). No one takes and holds the lead, so the fivesome develops virtually none of the disparate ideas, intentionally or not, rendering most telling the first two tracks in this CD's sequence.

At the very opposite ends of the emotional spectrum, a wan spoken word piece of Morrison's called "I Am Troubled" belies his altogether bristling delivery of "Seminary School (a.k.a. Petition the Lord With Prayer)." Such engagement from the frontman is rare on any of The Soft Parade recordings (including the bonus material on the 40th anniversary set excluded here), but energy permeates the musicianship and singing by keyboardist Ray Manzarek in the absence of the lead vocalist on three blues numbers, including what would become something of a signature song for the band, "Roadhouse Blues," that brims with a delightfully off-the-cuff air, in marked contrast to the desultory, anti-climactic aura that unfortunately radiates from the previously-referenced outtakes from the core quartet

Ever astute essayist that he is, Fricke conjures up the paradox of vibrancy and lack of purpose that was the Doors at the end of the Sixties. However, perhaps even more insightful in his own way is technical expert Botnick, whose slight remove from the direct proceedings as they happened, combined with his intimate knowledge of the music, affords him an unusual clarity. It's an illumination that filters through The Soft Parade: 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition, albeit often only slightly below its surface.

Track Listing: CD1: Tell All The People; Touch Me; Shaman’s Blues; Do It; Easy Ride; Wild Child; Runnin’ Blue; Wishful Sinful; The Soft Parade; Who Scared You. CD 2: Tell All The People; Touch Me; Runnin’ Blue; Wishful Sinful; Who Scared You; Roadhouse Blues; (You Need Meat) Don’t Go No Further; I’m Your Doctor; Touch Me; Runnin’ Blue; Wishful Sinful. CD 3: I Am Troubled; Seminary School (aka Petition The Lord With Prayer); Rock Is Dead; Chaos.

Personnel: Jim Morrison: vocals; Ray Manzarek: keyboards, vocals; Robbie Krieger: guitar, vocals; John Densmore: drums; Robert de Leo: bass; Doug Lubahn: bass; Harvey Brooks: bass; Jesse McReynolds: mandolin; Jimmy Buchanan: fiddle; Reinol Andono: percussion; Curtis Amy: saxophone; Champ Webb: English horn; John Aldino: trumpet; George Bohanon: trombone; Lou Blackburn: trombone; Jules Chalkin: trumpet/leader; Norman Botnick: violin/leader; John Kelson, Jr: sax/woodwinds; John Lowe: sax/woodwinds; Jay Migliori: sax/woodwinds; Harry Bluestone, John Devoogdt, Harris Goldman, Jerome Reisler, Isadoe Norman and Darrel Terwilliger: violins; Nathan, Gershman, Jerome A. Kessler, and Victor Sazer: cellos; Priscilla Nemoy: copyist; Paul Harris: orchestral arrangements.

Title: The Soft Parade - 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Rhino

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