The Doors - Strange Days
Showing a dazzling awareness of their own legend, only appreciated in looking at the growth between their debut and this follow-up, released within a year of each other, The Doors barely adorned the cover of Strange Days with seven carnival players, leaving the band to stare out from a poster on an alley wall.
According to the band, Jim Morrison had publicly expressed his disapproval of the prominence he was given on the cover of the band's debut album and so, for their follow-up, The Doors are seen as little more than grainy photocopies, which would be an analogy well suited to describe the music of Strange Days by, were it a poor imitation of The Doors. Instead, Strange Days more than betters the band's debut, offering an edgy paranoia in place of bluesy psychedelia, as well as early indication of the sense of regret that would later inform the band's greatest album, LA Woman.
Where once they had recorded Robby Krieger's Light My Fire, hitting number one in the pop charts as a result, Strange Days opens with the descending organ riff of the title song before Morrison's paranoia comes hurtling through the song, "Strange days have found us...They're going to destroy / Our casual joys", showing that despite this material having been worked up in the same live shows at the Whiskey A Go Go as that of their debut, The Doors had clearly marked this as their more difficult album. Of course, Strange Days never matched the commercial success of the band's debut but nothing on their debut has such a full sound as the instrumental chorus of this album's title track, which is one of the few instances of psychedelia, which all too often had a scratchy, badly produced sound, being a match for Phil Spector's Wall of Sound.
And so it comes to what is Strange Days' unique position in the legacy left by The Doors - barring a moment or two from LA Woman and the underrated misfire of The Soft Parade, Strange Days sounds wonderful throughout its ten songs. From the walking bass of You're Lost Little Girl, through the sleazy riffing of Love Me Two Times, the slow, churning sound effects of Horse Latitudes and on to album's final song, When The Music's Over, Strange Days is the sound of a band settling into recording in the studio before the best of the material dried up and Morrison's drinking exhausted him of the fight to keep moving his band onwards.
Then again, the album's greatest moments are the sinister little love songs that dot across the album. Morrison was always well suited to crooning, more so than his beloved blues, and so You're Lost Little Girl, with its beautiful opening verse and harpsichord works wonderfully when placed between Strange Days and Love Me Two Times, which, despite the title, speaks louder about lust than it does love. Elsewhere, Unhappy Girl and I Can't See Your Face In My Mind are bruised love songs but it is with Moonlight Drive that Strange Days has its greatest moment.
According to legend and Oliver Stone's film, Moonlight Drive was the song that Morrison sung to Manzarek on Venice Beach, which convinced one to form a band with the other. Whether due to his already skewed imagination or the vast quantities of acid he was taking, Morrison was claiming that he could see and hear whole concerts in his head. Of course, given Morrison's habit of creating a legend for himself, he could have simply been spinning one more story but the quality of Moonlight Drive ensured Morrison was given a place in Manzarek's band. As included on Strange Days, though the song was actually recorded without Krieger during the band's first studio session with Manzarek filling in on guitar, Moonlight Drive retains a shimmering sound, using slide guitar to fill in about a piano as Morrison croons, "Let's swim to the moon, uh-huh / Let's climb through the tide". As with a fair number of Doors' songs, which nominally begin as love songs, both the music and Morrison's lyrics twist Moonlight Drive into a cheer to teenage sex. Of course, being Morrison, Moonlight Drive leers at the thought of back seat lust, particularly with the line, "You reach a hand to hold me / But I can't be your guide" and Morrison's ad-libbing as the song closes, showing that his own desire had overcome any responsibilities he had ever shown.
Finally, When The Music's Over is the least effective of The Doors' long, closing songs, which also includes The End from their debut and Riders On The Storm from LA Woman. As with The End, itself containing a great opening and ending with a vast amount of filler in between, When The Music's Over is not much more than a ragbag collection of poetry and sloganeering from Morrison. Unlike, say, LA Woman or even The Soft Parade, both of which actually display some care in their writing, When The Music's Over drags its centre section over music so flimsy that it's barely present.
Strange Days is not The Doors' greatest album but it's more than a match for the band's debut, offering a darker flipside to the psychedelic pop of Light My Fire and 20th Century Fox as well as a continuation of that earlier album's themes and a development of their sound. With LA Woman some way off and with both Waiting For The Sun and The Soft Parade to stutter out of the band's contract with Elektra, Strange Days was as good as The Doors were going to get for a year or two and the next time the band showed this much promise, Morrison was close to death in Paris, making Strange Days the album that sits on the cusp of this band throwing almost everything away as well as being a genuine psychedelic classic.