Psychedelic jazz-rock by ex-Doors keyboardist
When Ray Manzarek passed away in 2013, the world not only lost a fabulous musician, but also a wonderful human being. As anyone who has read his 1998 autobiography Light My Fire – My Life With The Doors will know, Manzarek was something of a wacky eccentric, who liked his Chopin and pot in equal measure, and who continued to carry the psychedelic banner throughout the remainder of his years. But when the death of Jim Morrison put paid to The Doors’ future (with the exception of two post-Morrison albums, 1971’s Other Voices and ‘72s Full Circle), Manzarek went on to release several solo LPs beginning with 1974’s The Golden Scarab.
Now, even if the music itself was complete shite (which it isn’t), the album is worth owning just for the cover alone, which depicts Ray as some sort of ancient Egyptian high-priest beatnik who wants to turn the listener on to the glory of the scarab. Or maybe he just thought it would make for a groovy album cover. Either way, Ray managed to assemble a fine array of superior musicians, namely Larry Carlton (guitar), Tony Williams (drums), Joe Walsh (guitar), Oscar Brashear (trumpet), along with a host of percussionists and other no doubt like-minded individuals.
The tropical semi-Caribbean influenced “He Can’t Come Today” makes for a terrific party number, but might leave many a serious Doors fan scratching their craniums. Not quite rumba, not quite rock ‘n’ roll, it is an odd yet enjoyable fusion of various disparate styles and genres.
Doors devotees will probably find reason to smile on “Solar Boat,” a song which serves as a bridge between Manzarek’s past and his then present, thanks to a few lyrical references (“Let’s take a moonlight drive” being one of them), and Ray’s glissando-style keyboard playing, best known on “Riders on the Storm.”
On band play at breakneck speed during “Downbound Train,” a tune which at times resembles an LA Woman outtake, and while Manzarek is no Morrison when it comes to vocal expression, title track “The Golden Scarab” hints at what might have been had Jim not departed so early, with its primal rhythms and near-cosmic instrumentation.
Next is the fun and philosophical “The Purpose Of Existence Is?,” another lengthy tune where Carlton is given the opportunity to play an extended guitar solo over Manzarek’s ever dexterous keyboards. The instrumental “The Moorish Idol” sounds as though it was written for a movie soundtrack, preferably one involving lots of acid. It’s all extremely entertaining nonetheless.
The album begins to drag somewhat thanks to the post-hippie “Choose Up And Choose Off” (“There’s a time to be counted/A time to make your choice/Gotta speak your mind/Raise your voice”). Yes, the sentiment is well meaning, but as far as rise up and change the world anthems go, it cannot hold a candle next to the almost seditious sounding “Five To One” from several years before.
“Oh Thou Precious Nectar Filled Form” is pleasant, blues-jazz number, and an inoffensive way to end what is on the whole an extremely satisfying album.
What this album makes clear is just how important Manzarek was as a member of The Doors, whose contribution was and likely always will be overshadowed by the far more charismatic Morrison. The Golden Scarab is an LP ripe for reappraisal.