Boldly promising two hours of previously unheard material, this latest re-package of Jim Morrison‘s swan-song Doors album comes in deluxe triple-disc formats with a new audio mix by original studio producer Bruce Botnick. But after being remastered, expanded and reissued multiple times, what are the chances L.A. Woman will yield any fresh surprises in this 50th anniversary edition?
L.A. Woman was born under strained circumstances, with long-time Doors producer Paul Rothchild departing before full sessions began, famously dismissing the band’s new direction as “cocktail music”.
Stepping in as producer, engineer-mixer Botnick then recruited Elvis Presley‘s bass guitarist Jerry Scheff to help beef up the bottom end. But however fraught its gestation, the original 1971 album still holds up well, with The Doors returning to a free-form, single-take, heavily blues-driven sound.
Morrison’s transition from lithe sex-lizard crooner to honking, gravelly bluesman sounds convincing enough on Been Down So Long, the Stax-stomping The Changeling and an agreeably gnarly cover of John Lee Hooker’s Crawling King Snake.
Even if these bluesy excursions border on sloppy saloon-bar pastiche at times, they are flanked by some all-time Doors art-pop classics, from the sardonic fairground toe-tapper Love Her Madly to the album’s majestic title track, a marathon lounge-jazz groove that channels the linear percussive clatter of Krautrock. Plus of course the anthemic Riders on the Storm, a sumptuous widescreen murder ballad full of prowling, shadowy menace.
But the unreleased material inevitably disappoints, given that anything remotely listenable from the Doors vault resurfaced long ago on previous reboots and reissues. Most of the newly excavated tracks here are extended early takes on existing songs, sprawling studio jams full of stop-start fumbles and tweaked arrangements.
Brief bursts of wry band chatter offer pleasing proof that Morrison had a self-aware sense of humour even in his boozy twilight years, but only the most forensically obsessive fan will enjoy sitting through bloated 20-plus-minute versions of Crawling King Snake or Been Down So Long.
Sketchy covers of Junior Parker’s Mystery Train, Lee Dorsey’s Get Out of My Life Woman and Baby Please Don’t Go by Big Joe Williams are very slight, some barely stretching beyond a minute, all sounding like they were never intended for release.
The only significant new discoveries here are Rothchild’s blueprint recording of Riders On The Storm and an early demo for Hyacinth House, the latter an elegant acoustic skeleton that works as a stand-alone alternative version. L.A. Woman remains a moody late-career classic, but it has no more mysteries to offer.