NOTE: Revised and expanded 9-26-2014.
Indie/alternative band Daniel Amos has just reissued Doppelganger in remastered and expanded form, re-presenting DA’s music with a cleaner, bigger, fuller sound. Originally released in 1983, just as the religious right was rising to prominence as a power broker in US politics, Doppelganger serves as an incisive critique of materialism and power-seeking in 1980s U.S. Evangelicalism. In addition to its value as political and social commentary, it is one of the most literary albums I have ever listened to, in “Hollow Man” setting the poetry of T.S. Eliot to music while making further reference to Dostoevsky both in its lyrics, its central trope, and in its narrative continuation of The ¡Alarma! Chronicles!, of which Doppelganger is part 2.
Daniel Amos has been highly eclectic musically since their inception in 1974. Their self-titled first album was straight up 70s country, while their second album, Shotgun Angel, mixed Eagles-inspired country rock with ELO-inspired soft rock. Their third album, Horrendous Disc, began their adaptation of the late the 60s Beatles’ sound to 70s rock and roll, an adaptation that the band reinvented for the 80s, 90s, and 2000s in subsequent albums. Their fourth album, ¡Alarma!, the first volume of the Chronicles, switched drastically to a pared-down Devo-inspired sound.
The ¡Alarma! Chronicles was perhaps one the most ambitious uses of the concept album in the 70s and 80s, if not in the history of rock, especially if we limit our consideration to the albums themselves and not their extension into film and other media. This four-album series followed its protagonist’s journey of spiritual, psychological, and social awakening from a teenage boy’s bedroom to his vision of the universe as Adam Kadmon, the grand man. Every song on each album considers its insights either internally to the narrative or externally to its application, and sometimes, in songs such as “Faces to the Window,” a song describing how world poverty haunts western affluence, both at once. Each album represents, I think, a different kind of awakening, the first album revealing the hero’s awakening to his selfishness, insularity, and materialism, and the second album, Doppelganger, to his duplicity and hypocrisy. But while these insights are critical, they aren’t condemning: they are communicated with a great deal of empathy and self-awareness, and with the fine touch of Terry Scott Taylor’s poetic genius.
Doppelganger received some attention in the college-rock circuit of the early 80s and was perhaps the album that first established Daniel Amos’s credibility as musicians and songwriters. With this album they seemed to cut loose from their most obvious musical influences to create their own rock/punk/alt sound. I was fortunate enough to see them live when they were originally touring for this album, and in every sense of the word their concert was an advanced art-rock experience. Mannequins — symbolic of both idols and of the depersonalization of the individual in late 20th century American capitalism — lined the stage and had speaking parts, their lips glowing as each mannequin “spoke” its lines.
But that wasn’t the first time that I saw them. I first saw them in the Norwalk High School auditorium in Norwalk, CA, probably around 1981. I remember walking up close to the stage, checking out the band, and thinking… where’s the rest of the band? Where’s the rest of the drumset? The drummer had a snare, a tom, a cymbal, and a bass drum. That’s it. And I’d never heard such a big sound come out of a few drums, or even out of a much larger set, or out of a much larger band. They jammed.
As relatively unknown as this band is, they usually receive attention from professional critics whenever they release anything new, because the band’s musical direction and Terry Scott Taylor’s songwriting has been on an increasingly sophisticated arc since Doppelganger, perhaps peaking in the early 90s with Kalhöun and MotorCycle then peaking again with 2013’s Dig Here Said the Angel, which presents yet another reinvention of the band for the early 21st century indie-music scene. They no longer fit a clear genre of rock. I would say the listening experience is close to a Robert Plant album. They’re just making great music now. Check them out. The remaster of 1983’s “Mall All Over the World” is embedded below. Let them blow your doors off 31 years after the fact.
I have to confess a bit of intersection with my personal history too. The third volume of The ¡Alarma! Chronicles, Vox Humana, introduced me to William Blake through the song “William Blake.” I have it embedded in a Prezi that I’ve created to introduce my students to Blake’s literary sources. After listening to this album, I ran down to the nearest B. Dalton (which by itself dates me) and picked up a copy of The Viking Portable William Blake. A couple of decades later I find myself writing my dissertation about William Blake, and then in 2010 publishing a book about him. Thank you, Terry Scott Taylor and Daniel Amos.