When Jim Morrison permanently checked out from planet earth while in Paris in July 1971, at first the other members of The Doors found it hard to accept that their dysfunctional lead singer was actually dead, to the extent that for many years Ray Manzarek entertained the possibility of Morrison having faked his own death, as a way of bailing out of the music business altogether in the hope of starting a new life (while no doubt hanging out with Elvis at the local Burger King on occasion). If only such fantasies were true. The fact was that Morrison is no more alive than William Wordsworth. And yet the band persevered for another couple of years, releasing two more albums before eventually realising that without their enigmatic front man they might as well just pack it in and embark on alternative hobbies.
That Robbie Krieger, John Densmore, and Manzarek made the decision to reunite several years later for one final album probably has more to do with honouring their late friend and poet than cashing in on past glories. Morrison himself had become like a sort of Hemingway of Rock (both were hedonists and assholes by the way), desperate to be seen as something more than just a pop star, because the word was his world, and whose genius did not wish to be restricted to music alone.
“Ghost Song” is the opener, and hints at what The Doors might have sounded like had they kept on making albums and a certain lead singer hadn’t of passed away. It is undoubtedly the most accomplished piece on the album. Jim’s poetry is clearly his own, as the next few tracks make clear, mostly expressed in a Kerouac kind of way, with plenty of prog-rock backing by his band mates. But don’t expect a Don Juan or Childe Harold’s pilgrimage, although this album is a pilgrimage of sorts, but even Byron wouldn’t have written a line such as “lament for my cock”, even if he may have wanted to from time to time, considering the extent of his own rather lascivious exploits. One main fault is that the LP perhaps relies a little too much on old material at times (“Peace Frog”, “The End”, “Riders on the Storm” etc), although a live version of “Roadhouse Blues” from Boston 1970 offers the listener a reminder of just how powerful The Doors really were as a live act. What it’s doing on here is a little peculiar, but then so is the entire record.
With the exception of Crash Landing (another posthumous LP of a dead artist, in that case Jimi Hendrix), An American Prayer would have to be one of the most unusual albums of the 70’s (and there was no shortage of those I can tell you). Whether it’s his memories of childhood (“Dawn’s Highway”), or more adult, philosophical excursions (“An American Prayer”), it is Morrison at the end of the day who dominates, which was obviously the intention all along. And I have to say that they manage to do it justice; because there could be no perfect way of representing Morrison’s poetry without the man himself, even if some of his words can be a bit self-indulgent and on the pedestrian side, as in “All join now and lament for the death of my cock… I sacrifice my cock on the altar of silence”. Hmm. Nice one.
Listening to this album, one can almost imagine Manzarek and Co. all gathered around a Ouija board anxiously seeking to conjure some of the old magic which they themselves were no longer capable of generating on their own. And whether An American Prayer overall serves as a successful tribute to their former colleague is a question clearly open to debate. You the listener can make that judgement for yourself, depending on one’s level of devotion. The remastered edition has three bonus tracks, the theatrical “Babylon Fading”, the moving and fragile “Bird of Prey”, along with an extended version of “The Ghost Song”, easily the best composition on here, and the sort of thing the LP would have benefited from if there were a couple more tunes of the same quality.
Morrison was certainly no T.S. Eliot, but he most definitely had an intellect to match, that much is true. This LP is the wake that Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore felt they probably needed to have, in the hope of finally laying Jim’s ghost to rest. But they must have known that that was something which would never be possible.