What does it sound like?:
Back in the mid 70’s I listened to a lot of Ten Years After. Not because I wanted to, but because my best mate liked them. Occasionally other bands got a look in – Blue Oyster Cult, Thin Lizzy, The Dictators, and incongruously, his other favourite, The Doors. In particular, The Doors first album. It’s an album I’ve never felt the need to own, although I hoovered up every grubby detail about Jim Morrison in Danny Sugerman’s “Wonderland Avenue”. And now here we are, 50 years on from the release of the first album and about 40 years since I first heard it.
It seems unlikely that this set is aimed at those of us who still haven’t got round to buying the first album yet. In attempt to appeal to Doors cognoscenti – or maybe more cynically, Doors completists – this 3CD / single LP set seems to be trying to cover all the bases. On the CDs you get the album’s original stereo mix, remastered for the first time in around 30 years and out of print for around 10. The original mono mix has also been remastered and gets it first release on CD, and is duplicated on LP. The third CD features a live performance from The Matrix in San Francisco recorded just weeks after original album was released. And as over 30 pages of comment on the Steve Hoffman forum testify, it’s The Matrix release that seems to have people stirred up.
Revisiting the original stereo mix for the first time I’m struck by its clarity and separation – it stands out on “Soul Kitchen” with bass and drums left, keyboards and guitar right with the vocals plumb center. Manzarek’s keyboards drive the album was, lending it a gothic, baroque aura. A quirky mix of 3 minute frothy, trippy, forgettable pop (I Looked At You, End Of The Night, Take It As It Comes) sit alongside tracks unparalleled at the time – Alabama Song, Light My Fire and The End, with the latter 2 tracks taking up as much of the album as pretty much all the other tracks put together. Light My Fire still strikes me as one of the best examples of Morrison’s vibrant vocals.
In mono, the tracks seem to lose their depth. Maybe it’s my familiarity with Break On Through and Light My Fire. Tracks I’d forgotten about sounded a tad brighter, but to I wouldn’t expect to be revisiting the mono mixes often.
The Live at The Matrix set has been available before and seems to be the source of the most attention and consternation. The 20+ tracks available on bootlegs fuel the theory that there’s enough material available to cover up to 4 cds, based on tapes that The Matrix owner Peter Abrams is thought to own but yet to be part of an official release.
To my amateur ears the live set was the most enjoyable part of this release. The vocals are crystal clear and Kreiger’s guitar is forward in the mix. The drums sometimes sound a little boxy but given the age of recordings the overall quality is quite remarkable. The debut album is played in order although I Looked At You, End of The Night, and Take It As It Comes have been left out to jump straight to The End which extends to 14 minutes.
Soul Kitchen is more frenetic whilst The Crystal Ship / Twentieth Century Fox / Alabama Song are presented very close to the album format. Each song is met with polite applause at the end; in all other respects you would be hard pressed to know this was a live recording. The stand out track is Light My Fire where the band take the chance to stretch out a little whilst remaining in close contact with the original.
There’s clearly interest in a release that covers the Matrix gigs in full, but it’s possible that any other unreleased material will be eked out over further anniversary sets.
What does it all *mean*?
Either – one of the all time great debut albums. Or in places “wincingly à la mode” (Mick Wall).
Goes well with…
Soul food and bourbon.
Might suit people who like…
Bertolt Brecht. Or The Stranglers.