What does it sound like?:
The Soft Parade is commonly regarded as the nadir of the Morrison-era Doors. Their distinctive, lucid sound drenched by producer Paul A. Rothchild’s strings and horns on their weakest collection of songs. Just as a sense of dread pervaded 1969, The Doors seemed to be out of step, brightening their sound and creating a more radio-friendly product. It did sell very well, especially in America, where it reached number six, and its lead-off single, Touch Me, peaked at number three.
The truth is that when The Doors convened in the studio, November 1968, there was no material fit for a fourth album. Morrison’s songbook was spent, he was exhausted with the strain of being the central focus of attention on a long tour and was consuming copious amounts of alcohol. As a consequence, Robby Kreiger, the guitarist, stepped into the songwriting breach while Rothchild, paranoid by excess cocaine, drove the band obsessively into new musical areas in a quest to be as groundbreaking as Jimi or The Beatles.
Fifty years on, nicely polished up for a superdeluxe edition by Bruce Botnick, The Soft Parade is a lot better than you may remember and certainly no worse than its predecessor. The Doors atypical style is at its best when the band behaves like a jazz trio straining against the straps of a Rock straight jacket, providing an off-kilter platform for the musings of their poet shaman at the front. Drummer, Jon Densmore, and keyboardist, Ray Manzarek, relished the opportunity to test their chops with genuine jazz horn players. Kreiger wrote his songs with the orchestration in mind and they work better than Morrison’s. Indeed, it became a contest. Kreiger was responsible for all four singles, Touch Me, Wishful Sinful, Runnin’ Blue and Tell All The People, despite the lacklustre singing. Morrison was repulsed by the latter’s lyric exhorting the listener to “get your guns” and insisted the songs were credited to individuals rather than the band as a whole. Morrison’s own are patchy and wild, Shaman’s Blues being the best, a delicious waltz. The finale, the title track, is Morrison at his most bewitching and bizarre, a long meandering poem, delivered with Brian Blessed gusto. Mind you, Kreiger’s Runnin’ Blue is the strangest song here, combining a tribute to Otis Redding and an urge to escape with a bluegrass hoe-down.
The extras include the five orchestrated tracks without the horns and strings. They sound eerily skeletal, the gaps setting traps for the heart to sink through. Krieger has recorded brand new guitar parts to fill some of the holes on three, Touch Me, Wishful Sinful and Runnin’ Blue. The basslines appear to be refreshed, too. These tracks make much more sense and could conceivably replace the officially released versions. The great thing is that the listener can play producer and create an adjusted Soft Parade of their choice.
We are treated to some rehearsals with Manzarek on lead vocal. He barely sings as such, rather growls and shrieks and, tellingly, the band doesn’t seem to be take them seriously. There is also the complete Rock Is Dead, all 64 minutes of it. Most of it is aimless, getting into focus for only a few minutes at a time, if that. It’s unlikely that even the most ardent Doors fan will revisit it much. Oddly, Whiskey, Mystics And Men and Push, Push, extras on the 40th anniversary edition, are absent but hardly missed.
The deluxe box consists of three CDs and a vinyl LP to match the debut’s and Waiting For The Sun’s editions, giving an opportunity to maximise the art work. It’s a pity, then, that the cover has a thick black border framing it. Strange Days, to be contrary, was only two CDs in a jewel case. A single disc remaster is available but if the first two discs had been issued as an inbetween package, that would be where the value is. Nevertheless, the music is worth a revisit. Half a decade on, The Soft Parade is charming and pleasant, adjectives that would not have impressed a band meant to be at the cutting edge in 1969.
The record company clearly believe there is a market for the mixed format superdeluxe box. The run is a limited edition of 15,000. There may well be enough Doors fanatics to snap them all up but it’s unlikely to win many new followers.
What does it all *mean*?
If The Soft Parade is the runt, it must be an exceptional litter.
Goes well with…
50th Anniversary Superdeluxe editions of the debut and Waiting For The Sun. Strange Days won’t be such a snug fit on the shelf.
18th October 2019
Might suit people who like…
The Doors. You have to be an obsessive fan of The Doors.