For three years, I was a volunteer critic for MonkeyBiz.ca. Between 2009 and 2012, I submitted over a dozen movie and music reviews to them, all of which were eventually published, much to my delight. Although I wasn’t always happy with the changes editors made to the original pieces, for the most part what I honestly thought and felt about these various creative endeavours ended up intact on their site.
My favourite of all my MonkeyBiz offerings is this review of the When You’re Strange Soundtrack. Released in the Spring of 2010, When You’re Strange is an acclaimed documentary about The Doors, one of the greatest American rock and roll bands of all time. To this day, I’ve not yet seen it but after hearing the soundtrack I had to write about the music.
Unfortunately, when my review was posted on July 15, 2010, the headline – “When You’re Strange: A Documentary Review” – incorrectly prepared readers for a film critique, not a soundtrack review. Not helping matters was the inclusion of the film’s poster instead of the CD cover.
At any event, what you’re about to read is a slightly revised version of my review. My original comment about the film’s narrator Johnny Depp sometimes sounding “Shatneresque” (because of his sometimes sudden, halting way of speaking) was strangely quashed. I’ve restored it with a new edit for this re-posting. Paragraph three had its opening sentence broken up into two and now it’s back to one again. Quotation marks replace the brackets surrounding the poem snippet at the end of the second-to-last paragraph. And, I’ve corrected the headline. All the other editorial changes I’ve kept because they improved the text.
Other than that, this is essentially my view of this CD. Enjoy.
When You’re Strange Soundtrack: A Review
Posted on July 15 2010 under Arts & Entertainment
By Dennis Earl
The buzzing electricity of Hello I Love You. The romantic elegance of Touch Me. The threatening menace of Five to One. The haunting Riders on the Storm. The psychedelic longing of Soul Kitchen. The elegant crooning on The Crystal Ship.
The honky tonk blues of L.A. Woman and People Are Strange. The chill-inducing, guttural screams on Light My Fire. The skanky shuffle of Roadhouse Blues. The moments of environmental outrage in When the Music’s Over. The overwhelming dread of The End.
The recent documentary, When You’re Strange, which played numerous film festivals last year before its brief, limited theatrical run in April this year, is the latest project regarding The Doors, the superb band led by the brilliant Jim Morrison. The accompanying soundtrack is evidence that the decades have not erased the power of any of these great songs.
Longtime fans looking for previously unearthed gems will be happy about the inclusion of two stellar live cuts that, as far as I know, have never been issued on CD before.
Despite its less-than-ideal sound quality, the band’s potent performance of When the Music’s Over (taken from a 1968 appearance on Danish TV) shines right through the hiss. The infamously ballsy 1967 live version of Light My Fire remains one of the finest moments ever seen on The Ed Sullivan Show, in spite of Morrison’s sadly distorted vocals.
The CD also includes snippets of Morrison’s poetry, recited by the film’s sometimes Shatneresque narrator, Johnny Depp, along with a few brief interview sound bites featuring Morrison and his bandmates.
Despite the lack of new, exciting material, When You’re Strange is a filler-free, 76-minute triumph that seamlessly weaves tantalizing nuggets of verse into some of the band’s finest material. Newbies, in particular, will be enlightened.
As the sound of waves repeatedly reach the shore of an unknown beach, Depp succinctly recites Morrison’s views on the restorative, sexual powers of the cinema. That’s followed by a quick recollection of the origin of the bohemian poet’s free-spirited post-UCLA existence.
Thirty five seconds later, we’re into track three, the surrealistically eccentric Moonlight Drive, which sets the tone for the whole record by showcasing Morrison’s twin lyrical obsessions: mortality and sex.
The rest of When You’re Strange constantly alternates between these spoken bits and the magnificent music. The distinguishable Depp breathes welcome, dramatic life into Morrison’s rich lines, some of which are layered right on top of the starts of certain tracks.
The mysterious Ensenada is heard over the thunderstorm that kicks off Riders on the Storm. The insightful Touch Scares, which declares that there’s no such thing as a victimless orgy, ends just as Morrison begins singing Touch Me.
O Great Creator of Being, a spiritual plea for the extension of the band’s creativity, leads right into The End. This highly effective editing technique allows for a smooth transition from Morrison’s fascinating poetry to some of the best rock and roll ever produced.
With the exception of some rather noticeable wrong notes on an otherwise entertaining live take of Break On Through, John Densmore’s keyboard playing is exceptional throughout. His contributions are so essential, this music would sound naked and unfinished without them. Ditto to the hard work of his talented bandmates.
The album ends as it began with waves crashing on a beach and Depp reciting another short Morrison poem, this one a farewell to his country that sounds like a fictional postcard from mom: “Money from home/Good luck/Stay out of trouble”.
How tragic he didn’t heed his own advice.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, March 3, 2013