Poetry or not, Morrison's lyrics always worked best via surprise attack; [on An American Prayer] his earnest readings … are sympathetically backed by the impeccable Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore, reunited for this holy purpose. Although he tends to sound like Ken Nordine without a sense of humor, Morrison wades through his imagination beguilingly; not as effective for employing tired poetic devices ("cool jeweled moon") or embarrassing imagery ("Lament for my cock") as when he truly lets down his reserve (a chilling, simulated phone booth confession of murder).
Mixed in with the readings set to music are live recordings as frightening in their way as anything else on the album. It must be hard for a younger rock generation to imagine anyone being hounded for using four-letter words on stage. The live cuts here capture turn-of-the-decade hysteria, Morrison exposing himself—no, not that way—as (merely a) shaman; Brechtian, and Mick Jagger should only cut out the kiddie antics long enough to listen.
This album probably wouldn't have been appreciated had it been released any earlier. Patti Smith may have reintroduced "poetry" to rock, but try wrestling with a dead madman. You can't win.
Scott Isler, "Meanwhile, Back on the Charts …: 'An American Prayer'," in Trouser Press (copyright © 1979 by Trans-Oceanic Trouser Press, Inc.), Vol. 6, No. 3, April, 1979, p. 29.