The Doors - Morrison Hotel/Hard Rock Cafe
Strip away all the criticism of The Soft Parade being an excess of songs from Robby Krieger, Morrison's drinking or the G'n'T poolside jazz that flooded the album, what The Doors' fourth album lacked was passion. Whether the band conceded defeat to a weak set of songs - unlikely, since The Soft Parade has, at heart, a more solid set of songs than Waiting For The Sun - or Morrison, Krieger and Manzarek lazily put their efforts to tape, allowing John Densmore to sound far more on-form than the rest of the band, The Soft Parade was a soft-bellied effort by The Doors, reflecting Morrison turning to fat as the Lizard King struggled to fit within his custom-made calfskin leather suit.
As Morrison busted out all over, so too did The Doors' pretensions but their efforts to cop a Sgt. Pepper or a Pet Sounds left them exposed. Whilst The Soft Parade is still a fairly enjoyable mish-mash of songs, with Wild Child and the title track being highlights, the experience spurred The Doors into delivering passion to their performances once again.
The result of this rethink was the single LP/double concept of Morrison Hotel/Hard Rock Cafe, which saw the not-so-dazzling arrangements of Waiting For The Sun and The Soft Parade bumped back to Paul Rothchild in favour of straightforward rock and, recognising the quality of Summer's Almost Gone and Yes, The River Knows, bleak, summer's day ballads. With Morrison once again on form, Krieger songs like Touch Me were eclipsed by the singer's fondness for blues and in delivering his best set of lyrics since Strange Days, Morrison Hotel/Hard Rock Cafe began the return to form that would produce LA Woman a year later.
With a cover shot on the run - the owner of the Morrison Hotel refused permission for the band to take an official shot - the Hard Rock Cafe side of the album opens with the boozy Roadhouse Blues. As our Top 10 Status Quo Moments mentions, it was hearing this shuffling, hard rock that gave Francis Rossi the idea for the second part of his band's career and little wonder - it's a great song from the opening seconds, when Robbie Krieger's guitar distills southern rock into a single riff and Jim Morrison, unlike later years, stays on the right side of downing beer into the small hours.
With the best opening track on a Doors' album since Strange Days, the album goes on to mix the mysticism of Waiting For The Sun, complete with a great, humming analogue synth, alongside the euphorick rock of You Make Me Real, which would get an improved, live recording years later on Alive, She Cried! This clutch of opening rock songs ends with Peace Frog in which The Doors sang of the bloodshed in the streets America during the late-sixties race riots and is the funkiest the band ever got. With Krieger doing little but getting together with this Jim Dunlop Cry Baby, Morrison sings of the riots hitting Venice Beach and, as the song ends, The Doors segue into the the beautiful Blue Sunday, which is one of the best moments across any of the band's six studio albums wherein Morrison, despite the affairs, pagan marriage and groupies, declares his love, once again, for Pamela Courson.
With Ship Of Fools bringing Hard Rock Cafe to an end, Morrison Hotel would have opened as the needle on side two hit the vinyl. The actual split between the two sides is as arbitrary as the turning over of the LP and little else. Certainly, there's nothing to clearly differentiate one side from the other as both Queen Of The Highway and Maggie M'Gill are cut from the same cloth as Roadhouse Blues, Indian Summer offers a reprise of Blue Sunday and Land Ho! carries on the travelling blues of Ship Of Fools,
The album's best track and the one that shows where The Doors were headed with LA Woman is The Spy, which sits between the sea shanty Land Ho! and another telling of the Courson/Morrison story in Queen Of The Highway. Over a slow-burning blues, The Spy has Morrison reaching far into Pamela Courson's heart to declare his knowledge of everyone she knew, everything she did and everywhere she went. Without ever overstating itself, The Spy - a truncated version of the song's opening line, "I'm a spy...in the house of love" - rejects the hard rock of much of the rest of Morrison Hotel/Hard Rock Cafe and allows a glimpse of what would spill over into LA Woman.
Amongst the six studio albums, Morrison Hotel/Hard Rock Cafe is typically ranked alongside the best the band recorded, ahead of both Waiting For The Sun and The Soft Parade and behind The Doors or LA Woman, depending on whatever is being argued for as being the band's greatest. This opinion is probably overstating Morrison Hotel/Hard Rock Cafe somewhat and says more about the feeling that persists around The Soft Parade than the actual quality of songs on this album. Certainly, Morrison Hotel/Hard Rock Cafe is far behind The Doors, Strange Days and LA Woman but, whilst better than Waiting For The Sun, is not so much better that it often scores twice what the third album does. Instead, Morrison Hotel/Hard Rock Cafe was the band bringing some passion back to their sound but it wouldn't be until LA Woman that the same genius that sparked across their first two albums would return and when it did, The Doors delivered what is arguably their greatest.