Ray Manzarek, the influential keyboardist and driving force behind The Doors, died on Monday at the age of 74 after a long battle with bile duct cancer. As a tribute to this musical giant, I thought I'd review "Other Voices," the first Doors album released after lead singer Jim Morrison's death.
The best thing that can be said about "Other Voices," the 1971 album from The Doors that was released after lead singer Jim Morrison's death, is that it's not terrible. Unlike most albums that were recorded after the departure of a longtime lead singer, "Other Voices" is actually listenable. It's existence is not inherently offensive, unlike the Doug Yule-led Velvet Underground's 1973 album "Squeeze". Nor does it confirm perceived shortcomings of the surviving members, the way 1996's "No Talking, Just Head" only served to reinforce the point that Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz and Jerry Harrison were no good without David Byrne. Nor is it the product of an oldies act desperate to remain relevant, such as the John Fogerty-less Creedence Clearwater Revisited or the New Cars.
That doesn't mean the album is good. Keyboardist Ray Manzarek and guitarist Robbie Krieger do their best to replace Morrison on the mic, but there's a reason why Mr. Mojo Rising got to sing and the others were relegated to the background. As a Doors album, it's one of the worst things they've ever put out. The only things that feature the Doors that are worse than this album are the 1972 follow-up, "Full Circle," which includes "The Mosquito," the single most bizarre Doors song to ever become a hit (and that's saying something), and this. Manzarek and Krieger, along with drummer John Densmore, get to show off their songwriting chops and they do a halfway decent job. "In the Eye of the Sun," which features Manzarek doing his best Morrison impersonation on vocals, is a catchy opener, while "Tightrope Ride" is a strong bluesy number from Manzarek and Krieger that wouldn't have been out of place on "L.A. Woman." In fact, if you put this song into ProTools and lowered the register of the vocals, it would sound like Morrison singing.
However, the album also features some real headscratchers. "I'm Horny, I'm Stoned" is, at best, a parody of Morrison's on-stage persona. At worst, it's a lame attempt to revisit past glories ("Backdoor Man," for instance) - only without Morrison's subtlety. And considering the fact that Morrison was only slightly more subtle than David Lee Roth, that's a fairly low bar to clear. "Variety Is the Spice of Life" sounds so much like the Lovin' Spoonful's "Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?" that I'm surprised John Sebastian didn't sue for copyright infringement. Then again, Sebastian was a friend of the band (having played harmonica on "Roadhouse Blues"), so maybe it was an affectionate parody. The closer, "Hang On to Your Life" is less about Morrison than it is about imitating Santana.
As with many albums where the longtime lead singer is not involved, "Other Voices" is fine as a "Manzarek, Krieger, and Densmore" album. As a Doors album, however, it doesn't come close to measuring up to their classics. "Other Voices" showed that Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore had plenty of ideas about where to take the band. Those ideas just weren't very original.