Psych-rock pioneers though they may be, The Doors are largely maligned in music snob circles.
And none of their albums are more maligned than 1969’s The Soft Parade.
Even as a Doors fan, I have passed up every copy of this record I have ever seen. But Monday morning, a friend of mine handed me a stack of records, with this among them.
As the Doors entered the studio, their ambitions for rock and roll were inflated by works like Electric Ladyland and The White Album. Wanting to transcend their medium, they enlisted Paul Harris to write orchestral accompaniment to many of the tracks. A few jazz players were brought in as session musicians.
If those ambitions had the songwriting to match, this would be a very different album. But unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. They had just come off of a demanding tour. Jim Morrison was disappearing into drugs, alcohol, and mental illness. His behavior became erratic.
Needing material, Robby Krieger contributed five of the nine songs, which Morrison sings without much conviction (the one huge exception is “Touch Me”). Robby’s brand of art rock is a little uncomfortable next to Morrison’s spiritual mysticism. As a result, you end up with the wild frenzy of “Shaman’s Blues” next to the scatting nonsense of “Do It.”
Which isn’t to say that Morrison is in top form either. The album closes with “The Soft Parade,” a wandering, chameleonic eight-minute epic. The Doors had done this sort of thing before, to great success—”The End” and “When the Music’s Over” are two of my favorite Doors songs ever. But “The Soft Parade” is a little misguided. A few passages feel more Lounge Singer than Lizard King, but it manages to find its way before the end.
All that said, The Soft Parade isn’t quite as offensive as its reputation would suggest. It’s wildly uneven, and fails to stand in the shadow of the records before it (including Waiting for the Sun, which isn’t a masterpiece either). But it does have a few enjoyable moments. Which, for free, is enough.