Graded on a Curve:
The Doors,
Other Voices

Everybody knows The Doors died with Jim Morrison. Everybody except the band’s three surviving members, that is. They went on to record an album without Mr. Mojo Risin’ at the helm, proving that some people don’t know how to quit when they’re ahead. And then went on to release two more albums, proving that some people don’t know how to quit when they’re behind. They were that guest who, at the end of the night, refuses to leave the party.

The Doors weren’t the only band to outstay its welcome following the departure of its defining frontman. The Velvet Underground released an album (1973’s Squeeze) without Lou Reed, and Lynyrd Skynyrd reformed after the death of Ronnie Van Zant. But very few people at the time had ever heard of Lou Reed or the Velvet Underground, and Van Zant, while a musical genius, lacked Mr. Leather Pants’ stage presence, sex appeal, and aura of dark magic. Nor did he possess Morrison’s wonderful capacity for making a drunken spectacle of himself.

1971’s Other Voices raises an immediate question. To wit, why didn’t Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, and John Densmore, who evidently went in search of a new frontman, try harder? Because both Manzarek and Krieger, who share lead vocals, have zero charisma and can’t sing a lick. And to make matters worse, Morrison’s lyrical talent went to the grave with him. He may not be the great poet some claim he is, but he’d have rather volunteered to parachute behind enemy lines in Vietnam than write a song entitled “I’m Horny, I’m Stoned.”

And more’s the pity, because a couple of songs on Other Voices stand on their musical merits. “Tightrope Ride” is a bracing garage rocker marred only by a mediocre bridge and, miracle of miracles, Manzarek actually holds up his end on vocals. And the trio strike lovely (and very un-Doors like) note on the piano-based “Wandering Musician,” which holds up despite Manzarek’s every effort to sabotage it with his wooden indian vocals.

After that, things go downhill like Sonny Bone. “In the Eye of the Sun” and “Variety Is the Spice of Life” both have that distinctive Doors flavor, but die horrible deaths at the vocal cords of Manzarek and Krieger, respectively. Ditto “Hang on to Your Life,” which boasts some great drumming and Krieger’s distinctive guitar sound but auto-destructs the instant Manzarek opens his trap. And Manzarek’s ungodly Jimbo imitation on “Ships with Sails” makes you want to remove his tonsils with a claw hammer.

“Down on the Farm” has the virtue of not sounding like a Doors song, but it’s undone by its soggy hippie pastoralism, which is both trite (sample lyric: “City life’s a real bad habit”) and dated (every hippie who’d decided to buy a goat and split for Woodstock had done so after Canned Heat put out “Going Up the Country”–some three years before).

And what’s to say about the unspeakable “I’m Horny, I’m Stoned”? Aside from the shitty vocals and pedestrian melody, what makes it so unbelievable is the fact that IT’S NOT A JOKE SONG. Or at least I don’t think it is. Shel Silverstein or Captain Hook & the Medicine Show would have done great things with a title like that, but these guys have the sense of humor of Cotton Mather. The result is a song that is positively radioactive, and should be encased in a concrete sarcophagus like the one over building No. 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

It would be the taking the perverse path (which is always more interesting) to declare that Other Voices isn’t nearly the disaster everybody thinks it is. But Other Voices is the disaster everybody thinks it is, and in some regards it’s an even bigger disaster than everybody thinks it is. Other Voices fails because those other voices are the kinds of voices have all the excitement of public access television.

Other Voices is proof positive that Jim Morrison was both the brains and heart of The Doors. Manzarek, Krieger, and Densmore simply the players who helped bring his vision to fruition. 1972’s Full Circle and 1978’s An American Prayer (on which the band brought Morrison back from the grave by playing over his recorded poetry) are further, unnecessary evidence of this fact. When the lead actor in a play dies on stage in the middle of Act I, the supporting actors are obligated to make a dash for stage right. It’s called Shakespeare’s Law, and I just made it up.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
D-

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