Psych Insight: Album Review – A Psych Tribute to the Doors (Cleopatra Records)

When people ask me what sort of music I am into these days I am never quite sure how to respond because whatever I say be it just ‘psychedelic’, or something like new, neo, or contemporary psych does not really help. The most common response is something along the  lines of “oh that druggy music them”, which does not represent what contemporary psych is about at all.

The next stage, then, is to find some reference points: the musical influences for the artists who make up the scene. This is extremely difficult because those operating under the psych banner are very diverse. Nevertheless there are some influences that are key to many of the acts. These would include late-Beatles, 60s flower power bands such as Nirvana, the Nuggets garage/ punk scene, Pink Floyd, Krautrock (especially Can and Neu!), and what I would loosely call post-punk indie (personified by Joy Division and the Jesus and Mary Chain). There are more, of course, but these are the ones that pop up most often for me.

I would definitely include The Doors in this list, a band who I find equally difficult to describe. Sure drugs played an important role in their output, and they were a key part part of that East Coast scene, but at the same time quite unique. A great deal of this is down to Jim Morisson’s persona and, frankly, the fact that he died young and in so doing preserved the band’s legacy in a particular era.

The Doors are also key to my musical heritage and have influenced many of the bands I’ve been into over the years. They are a band I frequently turn to when I’m faced with indecision, uncertainty and a wall full of vinyl. They are a key building block in rock music, but often overlooked.

I was intrigued, then, to come across this album of Doors covers by some of my current favourite bands: intrigued and slightly worried. I was worried that these bands either wouldn’t do the tracks justice or would be too slavish to the originals.

From the first few bars of Elephant Stone’s ‘LA Woman’, however, I knew that my anxiety would prove unfounded; and what follows is a tribute that broadly finds the right balance between honouring the original songs and developing new interpretations of them. Here is a track that has quickly become one of my favourites of the year so far, a marvellous psych response to the original. This theme is continued with Black Angels’ ‘Soul Kitchen’ which shows real understanding of the original version but adds a real poignance to the track.

Next up is the Psychic Ills with a brilliantly laid back version of ‘Love Me Two Times’, bringing their own brand of lugubrious blues to this classic track. So far so good, but it is Dark Horses’ ‘Hello, I Love You’ which starts to take us more off piste. There is real menace added to the vocal and really brings something new out of the song for me. Next up is a new band to me, Camera; doing ‘People Are Strange’ as an instrumental. I’m not sure whether this works for me, yes I know the words backwards and can put them in myself but I feel that Doors songs need the lyric and this doesn’t really add anything.

Things get back on track with a vengeance with Dead Meadow’s ‘The Crystal Ship’, which manages to retain the feeling of alienation and sense of disorientation, but slowed down even more which, if anything, gives the listener even more of a sense of the trip that the song is describing. Sons of Hippies’ ‘The Soft Parade’ is a real proggy, disjointed and, at times, wonderfully melodic version which takes us a long way from the original without our losing sight of it; not my favourite track on this album because its not completely my thing, but I can appreciate it for its eclectic and layered approach.

The bringing together of the Dead Skeletons and ‘Riders on the Storm’ is for me a match made in, well if not exactly heaven some sort of soteriological world. Of all the bands on this album Dead Skeletons probably get Morrison’s spiritual influences more than any other; and sure enough they have created a fantastic Doors-esque mantra which draws the listener in; I’d love them to do more Doors covers because they just get them so well.

One of the most difficult tracks to cover in the context of this album is probably ‘Light My Fire’ because of the many interesting and varied versions that have gone before. I was, therefore, pleased to see that Wall of Death had taken on it on. They do a really good job of breaking the song up into different parts and working with the pace a bit differently. They retain the track’s inherent musicality but strip back certain sections which, for me, works very well.

You are always going to get something a bit different with Clinic and, if this is what you expect, then you are not going to be disappointed with this version of ‘Touch Me’. It is really creepy, in a way which really make me really want them to cover The Police’s ‘Don’t Stand So Close To Me’, because they have really given me a new perspective on this track and would do wonders to Sting’s own creepy lyrics.

Vietnam’s ‘Roadhouse Blues’ is probably one of the more conventional tracks here, reminding us that The Doors were a blues band (something I’d almost forgotten when listening to this compilation) useful in this context, but not in terms of adding to the song itself. The same could be said for Geri X’s ‘Love Her Madly’ which is an enjoyable listen, especially with the replacement of the keyboard with sitar, but is nothing new in terms of interpretation.

Last up is The Raveonettes version of, of course, ‘The End. Clocking in at just over three minutes it is considerably shorter than the original. It is also much more mellow and as such helped me to understand the song a little better, more a vignette of the original; but a nice and thought-provoking way to round off this album nevertheless.

If this compilation does anything it convinces me of the important role that The Doors play in the current Psych scene, influencing a diverse number of bands. It also underlines the strength of The Doors’ back catalogue and, although the choice of tracks is rather conservative, it does establish them as key progenitors to the current psych scene.

You can find more Psych Insights by Simon Delic here.

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