The Soft Parade
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2007, Volume 14, #7
Written by John Metzger
Mon July 16, 2007, 06:00 AM CDT
While Waiting for the Sun may have provided hints that The Doors’ world was beginning to spiral out of control, its fourth endeavor The Soft Parade offered positive proof that it had fallen completely apart. Since its release, the set has been maligned for its horn- and string-adorned arrangements, but these accouterments collectively were more of a symptom of the issues at hand, rather than the cause. To its credit, the group was trying to find a new direction for its music — one which not only would allow it to grow but also would keep front man Jim Morrison engaged. Although the southern soul textures that permeated The Soft Parade formed a natural progression of The Doors’ sound, the ideas that the ensemble had concocted were, unfortunately, half-baked and poorly executed.
In Oliver Stone’s biopic The Doors, there is a scene in which an inebriated Jim Morrison is trying to summon the conviction to deliver the vocals to Robby Krieger’s new tune Touch Me. Granted, Morrison’s disconnection and boredom were magnified significantly, but in the process, the film effectively chronicled just how fast The Doors’ chemistry was disintegrating. Morrison was angered by his band-mates desire to allow Light My Fire to be used in a commercial, while Krieger, Ray Manzarek, and John Densmore were frustrated by their leader’s unpredictable and self-destructive behavior. Just prior to the release of The Soft Parade, Morrison suffered an epic, egomaniacal, art-rock collapse in front of an audience in Miami — the result of which was a bogus charge of indecent exposure that haunted the group for the rest of its days. The problems, of course, had been brewing for quite some time, though they all came to a head in the weeks that surrounded the release of the album.
The biggest challenge that The Doors had to overcome in crafting The Soft Parade, however, was that it simply had run out of material. In the past, its songs had been honed on a concert stage. They had been given ample opportunity to ripen and evolve, and each member of the group had discovered the proper manner of voicing the compositions. Having to write tunes in the studio did not play to The Doors’ strengths, and the result of such an approach was that everything on The Soft Parade sounded disjointed and confused. In short, the ensemble was recording the album before it fully had processed and become comfortable with its contents.
Tracks like Wild Child, Easy Ride, and Shaman’s Blues were aligned most closely with The Doors’ early pursuits, but as is apparent from Morrison’s delivery, he found them to be tediously redundant. When the band tried to push itself onto new terrain, the guitars and keyboards were reduced, more often than not, to providing atmospheric textures rather than bold statements, and Morrison’s vocals were filled with uncertainty. On the Otis Redding tribute Runnin’ Blue, which oddly juxtaposed R&B with bluegrass, as well as on the more pop-oriented refrains of Tell All the People and Wishful Sinful, the band sounded as if it were searching for an identity.
Tellingly, the place on The Soft Parade where Morrison felt most like his old self was during the spoken-word introduction to the title track. For a fleeting moment, his loud, booming baritone held the powerful sway that it did on The Doors’ initial endeavors, but as the song progressed, it failed to coalesce. Instead, it veered wildly — almost insanely — from a funky groove to ’60s pop to heady, conga-driven garage rock. Consequently, it came across as a directionless pastiche of unfinished compositions. Granted, its psychedelic meltdown mirrored The Doors’ increasingly splintered sunlight, but the band’s fracturing facade undermined any hope that The Soft Parade would achieve the artistic heights of Strange Days or its self-titled debut. The bonus tracks featured on the recent reissue of the album make the case that the group wasn’t completely floundering, though they also provide further indication that The Doors wasn’t sure of what it’s next move ought to have been. ˝
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box