It’s strange how “last albums” always sound completely appropriate as such. You can hear what was going on, here. They sound tired, beaten down, burned-out. They sound like they’ve given up, and have pulled all of their remaining energy to make one last effort, to make one more really good album. I really like “Hyacinth House” — that shows, especially, what I mean.
This album is really good, in a resigned, tired, out-of-touch way. It doesn’t sound like the Doors, but then the Doors didn’t sound like the Doors at all anymore after the Soft Parade. It’s got a completely different vibe and musical focus than anything else they did. While early on, on the first three albums, they had a lot of energy and were focused on writing inventively, doing things which had never been done before, here, on L.A.Woman, they plod on in a constant, non-stop mumble of music which sounds only sloppy the first few times you listen to it.
But it’s different. There’s more to it than that — it’s just the listener is so used to the Doors jumping out, making a scene, and showing off their music, that when the doors turn inwards, blatantly ignore everyone around them, and huddle in a corner quietly, it’s a little bit of a jolt. You get to wonder what happened, what they’re doing. It doesn’t sound right to you. They should be coming to you — you shouldn’t have to go look for them. They should be on stage, and you have to go look around, only to find them tired out, sitting in a small room in some house somewhere on the other end of town, telling you to leave them alone.
After listening to the album about four or five times, it really begins to sink in.
Where everyone else ended, it seems, with some big bang of closure (the Beatles, with the second side of Abbey Road, culminating in a song titled “The End”) or just fizzled, it’s spooky, in context, to hear the final song on the final Doors album, “Riders on the Storm.” It’s such an unconventional album-closer for anyone, but most especially the bombastic, theatrical Doors.
Jim’s death was really timed well, also. It’s all very curious; there’s little question as to why such a mythology has built up around the band. Any way you look at it, the whole deal is just plain creepy. And Jim never even heard the album — the last thing he did which had anything to do with the Doors was sing the final vocal take to Riders on the Storm, which was not only the last track on the album but also the final track they had to record. And it was the final track on the last album they were obligated to make under their contract; with the recording of that track, they were free. Then he suddenly left for Paris right off, practically as soon as the track was recorded, not even hanging around so they could all finish up the album post-production together, something they had always done as a group. The album soon was a hit, only there was no Jim. While the other three doors did interviews and talked to the press and got excited about their success, and while they were preparing new material, suddenly re-energized, Jim was in Europe somewhere. But nobody seemed to notice. The other three Doors never said anything, because nobody really asked. Everyone just assumed Jim was hanging around somewhere, and never thought about it too much. Then he suddenly just… died. Only two people saw his body, and the physician gave only the vague diagnosis that “his heart stopped.” Not that he had a heart attack, but just that he was no longer alive. And he was buried there, in Paris, in a sealed coffin, an ocean away from where everyone thought he had been for the past few months.
It’s all very odd. It seems almost hard to believe, just from how everything was timed and the entire lack of details in some important places, with the details in the remaining places being out-of-character and strange. It’d be hard to write a more peculiar, creepy, and mysterious scenario for the end of a band.
It almost seems like some grand script was being acted out in real life by the band. 1971 almost seems manufactured, somehow, as if they all sat around somewhere saying “we’re not doing well right now — how can we make sure nobody will forget us? I know — we’ll kill Jim off, suddenly and mysteriously. But how do we make anyone care? Well, we have to scrape up the energy to write one more album — a good one, the way we used to make them. This one has to be great.” Then, being masters of dramatics, they composed the album not only well, but in exactly the right way that, in retrospect, it would send shivers up and down a person’s spine, even though until people heard of Jim’s death it would sound fresh and new, as if the Doors were finally back again, thereby creating enough of a huge sensation that people would be genuinely shocked when Jim turned up dead.
That whole period in American history was sort of strange, that way. It’s no wonder we have such a wacko-conspiracy culture these days, after having gone through those years.
The piece “L’America” is enjoyable for me, as well — that is another crucial track in establishing L.A.Woman as an unnerving album, just from its creepy “Night on Bald Mountain” tone, occasionally lapsing strangely into other musical styles.
Almost every track on the album is a variation on the “epic” theme they used to reserve for about one song per album (the closing track) earlier on. Almost all of them drone on at length, rather than consisting of tight, compact, efficiently-composed-and-arranged verses, choruses, and bridges. It all creates a similar blended, “here it all is — this is all the rest you’ll get out of us” effect that side two of Abbey Road, to compare that album again, makes, only in a much subtler way. The whole album of L.A.Woman is amazingly subtle in comparison to what someone would probably expect from the Doors. But then “Riders on the Storm” is suddenly tight, thoroughly thought-out, relatively short, and clear. And it just fades out with quiet noises of rain and some unnerving tones.
The lyrics to many of the songs on the album also allude to the resignation which followed the album and some of the problems the band were having anyway at that point.
“I need a brand new friend who doesn’t bother me. . .
I want a brand new friend who doesn’t need me. . .”
“Riders on the storm —
Into this house we’re born,
into this world we’re thrown. . .
like a dog without a bone,
an actor out on loan,
riders on the storm. . .”
We’re only here for a while, and then we have to return to there from whence we came.