The Soft Parade
REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/22/2007
The Doors will always remain the most fascinating American rock group of the 1960s.
There's a strange feeling when listening to them, almost like stepping into a foreign and dangerous world. Thanks to Ray Manzarek's keyboard, the music is quite dated but still transports the listener to those seedy, stale beer-soaked clubs of southern California, where the dream and the reality fused in a melancholy haze.
It is in this haze that the band sounds best, especially when listening to The Soft Parade. An early attempt at mixing rock with horns, it is an album that requires a specific mood to enjoy -- to wit, that mood when one is driving home late at night, the window cracked open, the thoughts swirling on philosophy and the meaning of life with a dose of sex fantasy. Which is basically what the Doors were all about - getting laid while reading poetry. Val Kilmer did it in Oliver Stone's movie and pulled the scene off quite well, if one needs a reference point.
Barring that specific scenario, listening to The Soft Parade is not an easy task. Easily the weakest Doors album with Jim Morrison, the nine songs betray an exhausted, embattled group coming off Morrison's on-stage audience baiting in Miami, resulting in the alleged flashing incident. Shortly after this, the singer gained weight and grew a beard and the band began writing songs in the studio.
When the Beatles wrote songs in the studio, it resulted in their best work. The Doors, however, found the sanctuary of the studio a necessity to maintain their sanity -- and a place for creative input because Morrison's well had run dry. The first three Doors albums were full of original songs and excellent ideas, and the final two were hard charges from a band that wanted to make the most of its last months on Earth. The Soft Parade winds up as the distant cousin of these five discs, falling somewhere between airy mysticism, overblown poetry, blues riffs, psychedelia and the occasional pop hook but not pulling any of them off well.
While much is made of the horns and strings peppering about half the songs, that aspect of the disc works rather well, especially on "Wishful Sinful" and the hit "Touch Me," one of the band's finest musical moments. Indeed, the most notable aspect of the music is that it's not quite finished. The ideas are there -- an odd bluegrass tilt to "Runnin' Blue" and the excellent guitar work of "Shaman's Blues" are obvious highlights -- but somehow they don't gel into truly memorable songs, except "Touch Me" and the bluesy rock of "Wild Child." This is a shame, because "Shaman's Blues" is good enough to have been included on L.A. Woman but just lacks the gravitas to make it special.
For the third time in four albums, the band closes with a ten-minute epic, but unlike the previous two "The Soft Parade" maintains a consistent tone throughout by being unpredictable; one doesn't know what's coming next, but one knows that something odd is coming next, even after hearing the song a couple times. It's hard to describe, really -- after a preacher-like sermon about petitioning the Lord with prayer, the song veers from chamber pop to lite-funky jazz with a carnival-esque feel permeating the songs. Lyrically, of course, Morrison is as on point as ever: "Deer woman in a silk dress / irls with beads about their necks / Kiss the hunter of the green vest / Who has wrestled before / With lions in the night."
Never a critical favorite upon its release, The Soft Parade became available in 2007 with a 40th Anniversary edition, but nothing is really worth hearing except for completists. "Push Push" is an oddball tune, though, sounding like a cross between the Vince Guaraldi Trio and a cheesy Latin nightclub.
With this disc, the Doors continued their legacy as America's most interesting, experimental and controversial rock bands. The Soft Parade, unfortunately, will go down as one of the experiments that did not work -- and not because of the horns, as many have said, but because of the lack of cohesive songwriting and general weakness in the material. Good for late-night drives, but definitely the last album to pick up by the original Doors lineup.
|I do not get this guy's logic. He writes, " The first three Doors albums were full of original songs and excellent ideas" and that The Soft Parade is "easily the weakest Doors album with Jim Morrison." Then why does he give "Waiting for the Sun" a C along with this?--too low for each--and he is thus saying they are equally bad, but his review of Waiting of the Sun says The Doors were out of song ideas and writing "subpar" material. He makes some general points about the Soft Parade songs that have some ring of truth, but the good lyrics and quality of Morrison's songs bring this well above a "C."|
I re-read my review of Waiting for the Sun and realized that you were correct. My logic and critique did not make a lot of sense. I have since rewritten that review. However, I will stand by my Soft Parade thoughts, though I respect your opinion.