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The Eagles
 

The Eagles

Fuck you man!  You don't like my fucking music, get your own fucking cab!
Introduction
Eagles
          Desperado 
On the Border
One of These Nights
Hotel California
The Long Run
Live
Hell Freezes Over

They say that if you take measurements of the facial features of famous people who are most often voted 'best looking' or 'sexiest man alive', you'll find that they lie very close to the averages for their age and ethnic group.  F'r instance, their nose is an average length, their eyes an average distance apart from each other, their nostrils aren't too big or too small, etc.  Alternatively, folks with weird deviations are 'ugly', see? Well, if this phenomenon doesn't explain the Eagles, I guess nothing outside the discovery of large amounts of lead in Seventies drinking water will. If a lot of FM radio fodder was middle of the road, the Eagles were painting the fucking stripes. If the Eagles hadn't happened, some cokehead LA record exec would've made them up.  Lording over the airwaves in the 70's and never relinquishing their crown for long since then, the Eagles are the epitome of post-hippie, commercial FM-radio hit pop in America, much more so than even, say, Fleetwood Mac (who were originally a highly non-commercial blues band, then spent several years weirding it out as a soft-prog band), Elton John (who was just too frigging odd to win the crown) or whomever else you care to name.  They simply lucked their way into having a lineup loaded with competent songwriters and musicians who were smart enough to keep it stupidly simple and make a seamless transition between the singer-songwriter fad of the early 70's to the arena rock/Urban Cowboy movement of a few years later. The Eagles are rightfully tagged with the 'corporate rock' moniker much like Journey and the Doobie Brothers. While all three were similarly dismissed by most critics and many serious rock fans as being inconsequential at best and 'rock and roll Antichrists' at worst, there's gotta be some level of there there for the Eagles, or 10 gazillion of their albums wouldn't have been sold.  They most certainly knew their way around a hook, kept their songs short and easily memorable, were naturally professional on their instruments, and wrote lyrics that sounded tougher and more profound than they actually were.  There were also benefits of being corporate lapdogs: they had crystalline production from some of the best cokeheads in the biz.

Still, the list of reasons to hate the Eagles is as substantial as the day is long. Their formula sounds great for the duration of a three minute single, but their albums quckly grow tiresome and repetitive due to the fact that they simply know only a few different ways of writing songs...diversity is a concept not explored within the Beagles camp. Even with the singles, no one played it safe like the Eagles played it safe...some of their best-known songs sound identical to each other (e.g, remove the electric guitar overdub from 'Take It Easy', slow the tempo down a tick, and you've got 'Peaceful Easy Feeling'). Moreover, when their formula fails, the whole thing comes crashing down in an apocalypse of smoke and mirrors - they're not interesting enough lyrically or instrumentally to keep a song afloat when the hooks don't take hold.  Don't be fooled by the very well-selected hit packages...the filler material roundly sucks on Eagles studio albums for this very reason.  Their live album's about as genuine as a $5 Rolex and about as untouched as Joan Rivers' chin cleft.

The Eagles mostly wrote highly accessible country-tinged tunes that relied on close harmonies and lots of comfortable chord sequences performed with gobs of studio shine and just a hint of good-ol' boy twang.  And they rode that shit home to the bank, six albums in a row. Other than a slight shift towards a marginally harder rock sound as original members gave way to high-priced free agents like Joe Walsh, the Eagles sound a whole damn lot like themselves. The word formula doesn't even come close to describing what they do...they damn near follow a roadmap from here to Hitsville. Starting out with former members of Poco and the Flying Burrito Band, as well as other third-string West Coast hippie outfits, the Eagles first worked together backing up Linda Rondstadt on one of her super-popular El Lay albums of the early 70's while she was still a prime piece of ass. As there were several competent songwriters in the band, all well-versed in folk-rock and country-rock, generating new material was an extremely easy process.  They hooked up with producer Glyn Johns and recorded their debut in 1971. The hit parade cranked up as Eagles had three bona-fide Top 40 bonkers and the followup Desperado contributed a couple more.  Around this time, the power structure in the band had began to shift away from the experienced country-rock axis of bassist Randy Meisener (Poco) and guitarist Bernie Leadon (Flying Burrito Brothers) towards the more charismatic sounds of drummer Don Henley and second guitarist Glenn Frey, culminating in the hiring of bona-fide lead guitar player Don Felder in 1974.  Johns quit as producer following their third album due to fear that they were fucking with the golden goose by playing too much 'hard' rock (in the Eagles case, hard rock means 'the volume on the Fender amps is above 3.5') and not sticking with their country-rock formula.  Whatever. 1975's One of These Nights broke the band wide open as it became entrenched on the album and singles charts for months.  With Nights, they finally became a headliner draw and left their days as opening bitches far behind.    In 1976, the lineup began to quake a bit with the loss of Bernie Leadon and his cute banjo playing for former James Gangbanger and successful solo artist-type Joe Walsh (which was sorta akin to the Rolling Stones replacing Brian Jones with Tony Iommi, but all in a very laid-back El Lay cokehead way). The new double-lead guitar lineup hit big with Hotel California, which went on to sell in fast-food numbers, and the Eagle's position in the pantheon of popular music was reserved.  The band took a few years to perfect their drug habits before finally losing Randy Meisner for Timothy B. Schmidt (who, ironically, had also replaced Meisner in Poco several years before).  The Eagles reloaded one last time for a final studio album (The Long Run) and tour, which produced the bands' Live album in 1980.  As the bandmembers had long since stopped communicating with each other like civilized people, the band quickly fell apart and finally officially broke up in 1982.  The 80's were a time of successful solo careers for Frey and, especially, Henley (who was often much more interesting and sharp while solo than when he was an Eagle).  Still, as their solo careers began to seemingly ice over for good in the early 90's, the band reconvened for a blowout reunion tour and live album in 1994 and now tour regularly to bald old fat people who don't think twice of paying $150 to hear a maximum of 15 songs they hear on the radio all the damn time anyway. 


Eagles - Asylum 1972

Their debut is perhaps the Eagles least cynical effort, probably the only time in their existence when it was easy to believe they were just a bunch of young journeymen musicians with a genuine love for country and old-style rock 'n' roll chompin' at the joint for an opportunity to finally get to have some of their songs heard.  It's also the only time they sound particularly enthusiastic on record, as they bravely bumble through instant-classic laid-back pop standards like 'Take it Easy', idiotic redneck rockers like 'Chug All Night', and sleepy country rock ballads like 'Train Leaves Here This Morning' with equal amounts of chutzpah and minimal competence.  They're proudly country-rock, and with no apologies...they've obviously taken Sweetheart of the Rodeo to heart.  There's several moments on Eagles when I hear very clear references to their post-acid forebears (Byrds, the Grateful Dead) who took the first steps to 'get back to the country' or whatever horseshit they said back in 1968.  The simple fact is that country-rock is both easy and fun to play...it's the only alternative to punk rock for people who don't much like playing songs with more than a couple of chords, and critics always seem to fellate an artist whenever they shift to a country-based musical style, even when they never usually come within ten miles of an album by a true country artist. Rock critics, especially the prominent ones of the late 60's and early 70's had an awful tendency to elevate anybody who dabbled in rootsy styles to near-mythical status.  F'r instance, Sweetheart is nothing more than a decent record with a few great songs and a lot of country-filler, but it consistently gets critical praise of a stripe usually reserved for Pet Sounds and Sergeant Pepper's.  Anyhow, the Eagles probably have more country-rock cred than a lot of 70's bands, and I don't really doubt their love of the form, but then again I don't think they were capable of doing anything else.

Anyway, even within its little confines, Eagles is an inconsistent record, but not an unpleasant one. It opens with the Cali-anthem 'Take it Easy', which probably oughta be nominated as the state song of the Golden State.  The melodies are clear and, well...easy, and a fine genial atmosphere says 'Welcome, folks...we're the Eagles! We write unchallenging music for unchallenging people! No hidden meanings or ambiguities here! We invite you to hum along, but not too loud, m'kay?' If one track defines this band, especially the early-era one, it's this one.  'Peaceful Easy Feeling', which is lodged in some dark hole on side B, isn't the same song, but it may as well be.  On all fronts it's inferior to 'Take it Easy' (it even didn't chart as highly), but the friendliness is still apparent and I only lose a few minutes off my life span by dumbing myself down to its level...painlessly. I wish on the 'other ear' verse, Frey didn't try to ape Neil Young quite so shamelessly, though.

The third booger in the nostril is the cool, out of character Don Henley original 'Witchy Woman', which doesn't even sound much like country at all...more like Lynyrd Skynyrd crossed with the Temptations. The band gets to show off its harmonizing skills in a harder setting, the guitars get to mix in a little Everybody Knows This is Nowhere sting and duel like the Allman Brothers in slo-mo.  Wherever it all is stolen from, the final result is very cool and instantly memorable, even for an AM radio hit, and there's even some genuine chills generated by the 'oooh, ooooh's.  'Take The Devil' has a similarly heavy feel, but lacks the playful hooks of 'Witchy Woman' and ends up sounding lead-footed despite some very crunchy lead guitar.

The rest of the record falls evenly between earnest filler that bores and inconsistent genre exercises that irritate.  'Tryin'' is good, dumb redneck rockin' fun, but Frey proves on 'Chug All Night' (yes, that's a song about drinking a bunch of beer) that he's about as convincing a rocker as he is a rocket scientist. A very young Jackson Browne contributes 'Nightingale', which sounds like it's trying to be undistinguished filler, all mid-tempo rote-rocking and clunky social-commentary/woe-is-me lyrics, and succeeds with flying colors and blowjobs all around.  Browne never was someone I could claim I don't 'hate with a passion from a near-cellular level' (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame my Ass! No Stooges, no Roxy Music, but this boring clown waltzes in across the red carpet though he's neither famous nor rock 'n' roll? It just shows how Cali-rock record execs continue to rule to planet from their pastel-tinged ivory towers), but this is bad even for him.  Former Byrd Gene Clark contributes to the quiet 'Train Leaves Here This Morning', a song whose pleasures are so gentle as to almost be nonexistent, but which still sounds like a masterwork compared to Frey's second strikeout of the album, the unbelievably limp 'Most of Us Are Sad'.

Because I can tell that the Eagles haven't yet turned into robotic hit machines, I'm willing to cut their debut some slack...they've got some spirit and guts, and if they don't always hit gold at least they sound like they're having fun trying.  Really, though, compared to their betters they're lightweights...'Take it Easy' aside, there's nothing here that Gram Parsons or Hunter/Garcia couldn't have jotted off in a lazy afternoon, if they'd wanted to (and that's a big if). Still, bands have got to start somewhere and Eagles is a pleasant little surprise for someone who equates the band with unsmiling professional competence and cynicism.  For once, the band is happy to be doing what they're doing.

Capn's Final Word: Just to think they were once only half-smarmy laid-back hippie wusses instead of smarmy ones.  Still, a very likeable bunch of dudes nonetheless. 

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Desperado - Asylum 1973

Desperado for some artistic credibility, that is. The culmination of their country-thick period, Desperado is backlot Western romanticism taken to an extreme, a concept album based on North Texas-native Don Henley's cowboy obsession that smothers what was left of the Eagles pleasantry under some heavy-handed symbolism and 'meaning'. Meaning? Meaning that this album doesn't have any hooks, that's what it means.  They're so busy listening to themselves mythologizing about shit they saw in movies when they were kids that they forget to write songs that are worth a goddamn.  See, exploring the cowboy ideal isn't anything new, as 5000 different Hollywood westerns and 5000 different rote country albums prove, and by the 1970's it really takes the sure hand of a Willie Nelson (Red Headed Stranger) or a Bob Dylan to do anything fresh and interesting with the idea.  Because the Eagles were *gasp!*, a rock band, and not real country singers, they figured they could get away with selling their burnout fans some more shopworn tales of heartbroken loners, saddle blisters, horse farts, and the boredom of looking at scrub grass day after day and come away smelling like Real Artists instead of hacks.

The problem is that not only does the whole cowboy thing smell as rank as Nell Carter in a sweater eating outdated pickled pig's feet on a hot day, it doesn't even cohere over the course of the album.  We start out with our introduction to our heroes, Bill Doolin' and Bill Dalton, who are somehow already dead. Mmm-kay...I guess we get to figure out how they got that way, so we make our way through a Bernie Leadon track that introduces one of the young heroes as bright-eyed and optimistic, kinda like the Eagles were on the debut.  Then, oddly, there's a hell-raisin' fast rocker tune called 'Out of Control' that not sticks out like a sore dick stylistically, but doesn't even seem to fit the concept very much.  Alright...three songs through and we don't know anything more about Doolin and Dalton other than their dead and one of them used to look on the sunny side of life. Suddenly 'Tequila Sunrise' comes up, and again we have to stretch to make a song fit in with the concept...this song could easily have fit in on the debut, and other than a thin connection that cowboys like to drink, so maybe the heartbroken alky must be a cowboy. Right. Concept? Hello? You still here? Doolin? Dalton? We're given back our thematics, if not our narrative thread, with 'Desperado', which I assume is supposed to fill some sort of cathartic centerpiece role, but instead slows the album down to a crawl as Henley whines like a closet fag with a cowboy fetish about why the hero won't 'let somebody love him'.  Yeesh. 'A Certain Kind of Fool' follows, and not only does Randy Meisner sound creepily like Joe Walsh on the vocals, it also crams about five songs worth of story into a few lousy verses (somebody, assumedly the young, green character in 'Twenty One' and not the salty old fart in 'Desperado', buys a gun and commences a-shootin' and a-killin' until his face is all over the Wanted posters).  Still, I like the chorus, and after something as eretcally dysfunctional as 'Desperado', I'm ready to soak up whatever bar-band energy the band is able to whip up. Okay, so we get a soundtrackish square-dance instrumental track that shows off our boy Bernie's banjo and mandolin chops that serves no purpose other than to remind us we're talking about the Old West here and not Sunset Boulevard or whatever, and then the cliche-ridden 'Outlaw Man' repeats pretty much everything 'Certain Kind of Fool' already told us:  Our character's gone nuts and is busily pumpin' hot lead into anyone stupid enough to look at him cross-eyed as he goes barreling across the West, so don't fuck with him.  Why has he chosen to go postal, John Ford-style, you ask? Well, don't go looking for answers from me, I'm still trying to figure out if we're talking about Doolin' or Dalton, or Beetle Bailey, or someone else. Thing is, after yet another detour with 'Saturday Night' (which is just a song about a decidedly non-cowboy-related breakup, and has no mention of 'rustlin' dogies' or 'ropin' whores'or any of that nonsense), our character is suddenly given a sidekick on the 'spooky' 'Bitter Creek', and after gobblin' some Peyote, they run off for 'one last score' (by, you know, rolling back the odometers on high-mileage horses and then selling them to unsuspecting ranchers or something), and end up dead on the floor in the reprise of 'Doolie Dalton', the opening track, not the instrumental.  Well, I guess that fills us in on how they got killed, but not why we should give a rat's ass.  And since I've already written probably 300 words too many about this stupid album, I'm going to let it be and say I don't care about Doolie, I don't care about Dalton, and I'm still trying to figure out what became of Beetle Bailey.

The only song that comes close to being memorable in this heap is Frey's 'Tequila Sunrise', which seems like a depressed take on 'Peaceful Easy Feeling'.  Lotsa folks fall for Henley's 'Desperado', which has to set some sort of record for the number of cowboy cliches packed into the same song, but I think its really stupid...not only because Henley rushes through the line 'she'll beat you if she's able' so the last word sounds like 'a bull' but mostly because it's loaded with couplets like 'you're losing all your highs and lows, ain't it funny how the feeling goes...away?' that are about as coherent as they are poetic.  Add in that the song has, like, two notes, and you've got yourself a winner for the I Call Bullshit! Award for 1973. I like the singing on 'Fool', and 'Bitter Creek' is much more evocative and cinematic than anything else here, and 'Out of Control' I guess rocks okay, but in the end I can't wait for Desperado to finally kill off it's paper heroes and go slumping back under the cow turd from whence it came.  Never once are the characters anything more than a collection of tired old movie cliches which Henley frantically tries to stretch into a plot, but if they were real people they'd be tiresome, stupid, and violent.  'Desperado' sure isn't a very good way to make us feel any sympathy towards them, and in fact makes me equate the characters with my own pain in having to listen to Henley's croon. They're not 'antiheroes', they're excuses for Don Henley and the Eagles to act serious and oversing like Neil Diamond. In the end, their bloody death seems to be a relief for them as characters, and definitely is a relief for us as listeners.

Capn's Final Word: Unoriginal soundtracky slop that sacrifices story and melody for statement and style.  Really, deep down, just a load of horseshit.

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On the Border - Asylum 1974

Not only the name of a obscenely overpriced corporate-Yuppie Tex-Mex chain, but also of the Eagles' third album, On the Border ushers in the age of the No Artistic Bullshit Eagles. For those of you that thought the first album would've been better with all those whispery ballads and the second album better if they'd released it as a 'Tequila Sunrise' single, On the Border is just your sort of three cheese enchilada, frijoles 'n' rice Soft Rock platter. More than just tightening up their use of memorable hooks, Border also marks the end of the band as purveyors of country-rock.  Perhaps their sound still owes more to the Everly Brothers and Crosby, Stills, and Nash than, say, Motown, but the shift has begun...the most notable developments being the loss of Glyn Johns as producer and the addition of lead guitarist Don Felder, which combines to make the sound rock harder but more blandly.  With Felder, parts of this album begin to resemble Win, Lose, or Draw-era Allman Brothers...lots of slide guitar and rootsy boogie, but not a lot of point.  The problem is, of course, that while Border appears impossibly thin and uncompelling when looked at closely, it's actually a perfection of the Eagles formula...only a real hard-ass wouldn't find even a little bit of enjoyment in this record despite their personal feelings about the band.  On the Border is like taking drugs...you know it's bad for you, but you still go right ahead and do it anyway and after it's all over you promise yourself you'll never do it again.  This is not a guilty pleasure that ends up being much more substantial that logic would have you believe, like say Fleetwood Mac's self-titled 1975 album or Boston's debut...this album really doesn't have very much at all holding up its glossy, catchy facade, but there it is anyhow.

The real dangerous one is 'Already Gone', which takes Frey and Henley's desire to rock out straight to the bank It holds all the genial, hooky charm of 'Take it Easy' and adds a zippy Felder lead guitar line that adds as much gloss as it does grit. The singalong chorus is so undemanding it could probably be mastered by a hyperactive toddler, but I guess that's why we have to grudgingly admit Glen Frey's a sharp songwriter. (i.e., He thinks on the mental level of a hyperactive toddler.) Again, the Eagles snatch up melodies and hooks that are so immediately catchy and obvious that I feel if they hadn't written them, someone else was bound to sooner or later. The album doesn't reach that same level of Eagle-ish potency again, but most of the songs have redeeming qualities.  Glen's other major contribution is the jokey boogie rocker 'James Dean', which ranks as the most groan-inducingly dorky 50's throwback rocker since Loggins and Messina's 'Your Mama Don't Dance'.  The title track introduces the 'angry' Henley rocker, later perfected on California and 'Those Shoes', and is cool and ragged almost like a ZZ Top song, and the man's pleading slow-burn 'Never Cry Like a Woman' is convincingly strained and suitably dark, and much better than any of his Desperado contributions.  The other big hit, (besides 'Already Gone') 'Best of My Love', however, is worse, as the band barely keeps awake as they moan through their sappy choruses.  Of course they sing it well, but even if they doubled the tempo it would still make CSN sound like Minor Threat.  The senior-prom weepers generally fail on this album - I don't much dig Tom Waits' (Tom Waits?!? Swordfishtrombones' Mystery Men's Tom Waits?  Wolfen's Tom Waits??!?? (I looked it up!)) 'Ol' 55', either, which obviously pulls out all the inherent edge of the original and just leaves the sap. Weirdly, in 1974, an 'Ol' 55' wasn't a very old car. It'd be like writing a heartbreak leaving-here song today about your 1985 Toyota Corolla.  Odd.

Glen and Henley both contribute to the sharp 'Good Day in Hell', which takes dumb slide boogie and dresses it up like a real damn song with a hook and everything.  Meisner and Leadon continue to see their contributions to the band diminish as Meisner only pulls out the formulaic MOR-rocker 'Is It True' and Leadon gets a 1/3rd credit for 'Border' and writes the only real country-derived tune (besides 'Midnight Flyer', which sounds more like a sick joke than a reverent country tune) left, which is the sweetly tough 'My Man', a heartfelt ode to the recently deceased (and kidnapped, and immolated) Gram Parsons, with whom Leadon played alongside in the Burritos. Otherwise, any remaining country vestiges are kept hidden beneath forty layers of shine and polish, plus of course Felder's poorly mixed lead guitar overdubs.  Still with tracks like 'My Man' and 'Never Cry', there's an element of roughage in this ice-cream sandwich that may not be apparent in the first go-round as you seek in vain to keep yourself from drowning in these easy hooks.  On the Border is the start of a very slippery slope...first you decide 'Already Gone' isn't so much the nightmare corporate-rock pool of poison you thought it was, next you're expounding how the second side of Hotel California is the greatest stretch of musical composition since Handel's 'Messiah'. Trod with care, thee who seek to enter here.

Capn's Final Word: The Eagles at their most Eaglish.  Kind of like a computer simulation of the good vibes of the debut, optimized for perfect chart response.

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One of these Nights - Asylum 1975

Rock and Roll's very own tanned All-American fascist rock band came back from Border preaching the darker side of fame with some decidedly harder-edged rock songs than we've heard from them since their debut, if ever at all.  They also reach levels of bland that were heretofore deemed unthinkable by a band that, while sounding as inspired as an overcooked Steak-Umm, at least always had some good hooks. The real problem is that the hard rock that was supposed to toughen their sound has made them less distinctively good-natured and has dulled their hooks dangerously.  Partially for this reason, the singles off One of These Nights are noticeably worse than previous, with not one single killer in the three.  I always thought 'Lyin' Eyes' ranked as one of the Eagles worst singles, saved from the bottom spot only by the Number One Smash Hit 'Best of My Love'.  This song is yet another take on the 'Take it Easy'/'Peaceful Easy Feeling' Glen Frey song-recipe, but it takes an extremely long time for nothing interesting to happen other than the revelation that the hero is going to the 'Cheatin' side of town'.  Is that standard zoning procedure? 'Between third and fifth is an industrial area, this over here is going to be a park, and this area next to the Interstate with all the cheap motels, dimly lit alleyways and all-night liquor and contraceptive stores is going to be Adultery Avenue'. Ah well, I have to dress up my Eagles reviews somehow, 'cos if I didn't they'd be as boring and one-dimensional as these albums.  There, I said it...these Eagles albums are some shallow shit. Seriously, what else can you say about a band whose street cred comes from the fact that one minor member used to rub elbows with Gram Parsons and another played bass with Richie Furay and Jim Messina? It would help if they played something more than strummed major and minor chords all the damn time, but now I'm just bitching when I really oughta be finishing this shit up so I can fucking review Yes's horrible Magnification album and finish their stupid page up once and for all. And I thought the Eagles would be easy because they only have six studio albums. Little did I know I'd be having to invent 101 different ways of saying 'formulaic'.

The Meisner-sung 'Take It To The Limit' is also dreadfully slow and uneventful, but I'll pull for the underdog and admit I like this one a lot, especially the 'So put me on a highway...sing me a song' and 'We spend all our time making money...' lines that lend a little bit of self-aware weight to a song that otherwise looks like 'Desperado' with a new frontman. And despite a creepy slide-bass intro that recalls the feel of 'Witchy Woman', 'One of These Nights' is simply a disco groove covered up with some rank guitar and Henley at his most off-handedly smarmy.  While he only overdubbed his parts onto Border, as of Nights, Felder is now an integral part of the band...which isn't what I'd call a unanimously good thing. The manhas a guitar tone that sounds like half David Gilmour practiced dullardry and half dirty-ass Stephen Stills crunch, and it's all over Nights like Glen Frey on a three-inch mountain of China White, even when it's not at all called for.  What used to be filled up with those tight harmonies is now choked out by the guitars, which never particularly find very much interesting to sing about anyway.

The main result of all this hardening is that the Eagles sound uncharacteristically nasty in all their harmonized, immaculately produced glory. Hell, I usually love nasty...gimme a Bob Dylan kiss-off or a particularly apocalyptic Neil Young/Crazy Horse rocker and I'll go off in a corner and bask in its glory for several hours.  The problem is, nasty from the Eagles goes down like a big chug (all night!) of spoiled milk. 'Too Many Hands' is damn near evil with all its metallic riffing and relentless groove, like they've finally decided to start staying up late at night to see what El Lay is all about after the sun goes down.  Dammit, though, at least those have a feeling... 'Visions' is paraplegic in comparison.  A harmonized rocker with no riff or instrumental flash? You get an unharmonized review with no encouraging adjectives, ya pieceashit.

All this yucky rocking makes the quieter tunes seem all the more samey and irrelevant.  I could swear I've heard 'Hollywood Waltz' somewhere before...how about EVERY FUCKING TIME I TURN ON A COUNTRY RADIO STATION?!??  Henley takes only a handful of lead vocals on this fucking album, and he has the misfortune to draw the title track, the ultimately boring 'After the Thrill is Gone' and this dickyank song? What the hell? Is he unable to keep it together for two albums straight, or what?  Was he attempting to keep Meisner from jetting by consciously 'collaborating' more, sharing some more of the lead vocals, and coming across like less of a megalomaniacal asshole, or had he simply left his balls in his other pants? I dunno...this album has a much stronger 'committee' feel than their others, so when the so-quiet-its-mute 'I Wish You Peace' limps into the finish line to end the album and I hear a voice other than Henley's, I see that probably he just pulled all the short straws.  On a record like this one, though, a lot of the straws seem to be kind of short. You know what? On an album where most of the rockers are repulsive and shitty, and the ballads so quiet and unassuming they're inaudible, there isn't very much left to grab ahold of, anyway.  A big hand to Meisner for getting a short stint in the limelight with 'Take It To The Limit', and to Leadon for the honkin' instrumental 'Journey of the Sorcerer'.  The rest of these idiots can lick my balls.

Capn's Final Word: It's mighty funny that the best moments belong to the Eagles on their way out the door. The rest is a bunch of nothing ballads and nasty rockers.

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Dver      Your Rating: B-
Any Short Comments?: The title song is not a disco (no relevant snare-hihat beat) or a pop one. It's just different and along with the facts that it has a great melody and unconventional part structure you get one of the finest rock songs ever. The 'limit' is great too. Poor Randy! 

 


Hotel California - Asylum 1976

The Eagles' commercial H-Bomb, which sold in fast-food numbers, California is sometimes referred to like a 'Sergeant Pepper's of the 1970s', which is damn funny because that album is grossly overrated, too.  Henley again takes a stab at conceptual songwriting with a suite of tunes that meditate on the fake, evil hear of mid-70's El Lay hedonism...you know, coke and disco and all that crap that threatened to ruin art for the rest of us for good.  It's a very good concept, and especially interesting considering the Eagles were right smack dab in the center of it all: clean-cut drug-addled pinup boys proudly churning out easily sellable product for the rock music establishment.  Just like Pepper's has a couple of the Beatles' finest moments, so does California elevate the Eagles to something more than the hit-monster formula slaves they are at heart...a least for a song or two.  The problem is that not one of the Eagle songwriters is able to finish off their share of the album without including one or two shit tracks that end up dragging the album to a crawl on the second side and making the whole thing seem like a party that goes on several hours too long...in the end you'll remember you had a great time, but for right now it's time to clean the vomit off the doorstep and get some shuteye, just as soon as these fuckers get the hint and leave already.

Essentially One of These Nights squared, Hotel California continues in the same vein by improving vastly on many of that album's bad points, like the foul, nasty rockers and ballads so quiet they were damn near not there. Of course, the addition of mercenary guitarist/songwriter Joe Walsh to replace Leadon wasn't a bad way of shoring up the first point as the man's a fine rootsy hard-rock guitar player who knows more about rocking than an entire stadium full of Glen Freys. He tempers Don Felder by keeping him locked into dual lead guitar lines and away from the godawful soloing he indulged in on Nights. Take a listen to 'Life in the Fast Lane' to hear the extent of Walsh's contributions...no matter who is playing what (it can be hard to tell Felder from Walsh at times, mostly because I'm not that good at discerning Felder's non-style, and also probably because Walsg came up with a majority of the lead lines), never had the Eagles guitars crackled and punched like they do here...the guitars spar and bounce off one another when playing rhythm, then gel together again for the lead lines. Of course it's all just another day's work for the Judas Priests of the world, but it's big news in Eagles circles.  They rock!

Sometimes!

Okay, okay, twice. No, three times...'Victim of Love' has more of that chicken scratch Joe Walsh-trademarked goodness.

But that's two more times than they ever really did before!

The 'Henley Sequence' begins with the marvelous title track, a very strong attempt at rewriting 'Stairway to Heaven' for the Me Me Me Generation.  Of course, living in America has diluted the effect of this song for the Capn due to innumerable spins on corporate-whore FM classic rock radio, but I still remember hearing it for the first time when I was probably 7 or 8 and falling in love with the slick, slightly macabre lyrics that seemed to conjure the time and place between my ears, probably derived from equal parts  Miami Vice (still one of the coolest shows ever on TV, and the first place I ever saw someone shoot the living fuck out of a mannequin with an Uzi...I think it may have been during Phil Collins' guest episode!) and The Shining (which my dad so very wisely let me watch when I was about Kindergarten age). Anyway, the song doesn't quite build in the same way as 'Stairway', by the effect is the same...when the lines 'You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!' crash forth and the 'Free Bird'-y dual guitar solos begin, it's easy to believe that the Eagles have a lot more depth than we give them credit for.

Or not, because that's as high as it gets on this album.  The glittering 'Life in the Fast Lane' comes close, with some kickass hedonistic lyrics ('they had one thing in common, they were good in bed...she said 'faster, faster, the lights are turning red') that criticize as they glorify.  Plus, the guitars rip it out, so what more can be asked for from an Eagles rocker? Well, 'Victim of Love' isn't quite as cool, but it's still hard and relentless and Henley spits his lyrics out with an impressive glee.

But the problem is that Cali isn't a hard rock album, not really...it's the quintessential 'hear myself talk' album that puts lyrics before interesting music, and that's what ends up making the final product feel like a failed ripoff. There's an inexplicable glut of boring, slow tunes on this album that just about takes whatever enthusiasm was generated by the rockers out behind the shed and beats the life clean out of it. The number one single 'New Kid In Town' is a loping Frey snoozer without so much as a hint of a hook other than it's very very faint samba rhythm. Joe Walsh contributes his own snoozer with 'Pretty Maids All In A Row', proving once and for all that the guy's croaky singing voice is about as attractive on slow, romantic songs as Crusty the Clown.  Henley's 'Wasted Time' is similarly ugly, this time because it's arteries are clogged up by string sections and a chord sequence better fit for a Neil Diamond weeper than a tasteful country-rock ballad.  It's the second wrost song on here, but wouldn't you know that they'd give it a soundtrackish instrumental 'reprise' section just like back on Desperado? Just to prolong the pain and pad out the songwriting royalties a few more notches? The worst moment, though, is Henley's horrendous 'Last Resort', a very long, very repetitive, very distastefully heavy-handed whine that somehow equates land developers and Christians with genocidal maniacs and sounds the death knell for California as 'paradise'.  Hrm...can I ask when it ever got called paradise? Wasn't California always a big plastic shitpit out in the middle of the desert that only existed as a jumping off point for every flighty, uneducated Okie, Mexican, homeless burnout, and moronic star-wannabe who had the fifteen buck to buy busfare enough to drag their carcass there from the sticks? Anyway, I wouldn't think twice about Henley's strident lyrics if he'd thought more than fifteen seconds about the musical backing, which sounds great as long as you define 'great' as 'everyone pounds on the same three chords for several hours at sloth speed and acts delighted to be buried under Don Henley's vocals, which are so droney and repetitive as to sound sampled on a tape loop'.  I, personally, don't use that version of the Dictionary.  Henley even has the balls to use the term 'white man's burden' in this track.  I'll say it clearly: This is the worst song in the Eagles catalog, and one of the most offensively PC songs I've heard in awhile.

Notice that I've stopped talking about the concept? Well, outside of the title track and 'Fast Lane', and the very heavy-handed 'The Last Resort', this is just a collection of the usual love and heartbreak yadda yadda.  What, I guess the woman in 'Victim of Love' must be a fucked-up rich Cali girl because ' A room full of noise and dangerous boys still makes [her] thirsty and hot'? Whatever.  They ran the string out on the whole West Coast Babylon idea after about 15 minutes of music and had to fill up the rest with filler crap that sucks. Still, it's hard to get mad at an album that has three solid, great songs that all happen to be hard rockers.  Am I just so biased that I can't find enjoyment in one of Frey's or Henley's creeping, comatose ballads? Guilty as charged, Judge Judy...

Capn's Final Word: Despite a few moments in the sun, this album is a despicably overrated bit of hackwork. Concept album my ass.

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ddickson@rice.edu

Y'know, sometimes I get the feeling that you're my evil twin, Heraldo.  Because you especially hate the things I like the most.  You think "The Last Resort" is the worst song in the Eagles catalog.  I think it's the best song in the Eagles catalog.  You think Hotel California is one of the more mediocre albums of the era.  I think it's the more good albums of the era.  (Of course, I haven't listened to Chicago 13 yet.  Who am I to judge?) ;)  We're two different people.  We're bound to like different things.  As Mark Prindle said: Choose your friends!  Make your enemies! 
 


The Long Run - Asylum 1979

Could have been easily titled The Last Run, because it was their final album.  Or maybe The Beer Run or The Bong Lung, because they were all so fucked up on various drugs and fluids all the time that it took them damn near four years to complete.  Or, and this one's my favorite, it could've been called The Dog Run, because it's for the dogs and it's covered in shit. HA!

HA! No, really, for some reason rock radio has latched onto The Long Run more than any other Eagles albums as its playlist cow. They play more than half of these songs on a regular basis, and by regular basis I mean at least once each in a three-hour time period. And I JUST figured out the reason why! See, in America, because big stupid marketing research departments tell radio stations what they should play and when, most programmers just keep copies of Greatest Hits albums hanging around so they don't have to worry about stepping off the Golden Road to Unlimited Listenership by *GAAASP!!* playing something that's not on the preferred playlist! (*omigod, he said it! I can't believe he said that OUT LOUD!*) The Eagles have two hits collections, the first one logically covering the 1971-1975 period, and is a great, well-selected bunch of singles.  The second set, which gathers tracks from only Hotel California and The Long Run (plus one from Live and even 'After the Thrill Is Gone', a mysterious track from way back on One of These Nights) doesn't have much choice but to include otherwise shit songs like 'The Sad Cafe' that shouldn't come within ten miles of a hits collection.  So Mr. Radio Programmer picks out the CD's to be played in 24-hour rotation for the next six weeks, and instead of, say, digging out some gem like James Gang Rides Again or maybe Neil Young's Rust Never Sleeps album, just pulls out the Eagles CD's and plops 'em on there.  It's the only explanation, because in any sane world much of The Long Run would've been forgotten back in the late Seventies where it belonged.

Did it actually belong there at all? By the time it came out in 1979, disco had already happened, the mountain of dance records had already been blown up in Sox park, and most people had broken their musk-cologne-gold-chain-and-mile-wide-lapel fashion habit, so why is there so damn much Saturday Night Fever-era Bee Gees content on here? 'The Disco Strangler'? 'King of Hollywood'? What, did Sly Stone come by the studio begging for a line of coke and you made him sit down and croak into the mic on this transparent little song that sounds like a drum track masquerading as a real song? What the fuck? The title track itself is some sort of screwed-down southern rock-disco amalgam, and 'Those Shoes' is downright funky (this time in a good way...the thumping intro was used to excellent effect as a sample on the Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique album).  I'm not going to begrudge a band the right to sell out a bit to disco music, especially when they're a band that has scruples as loose as the Eagles did anyway, but this stuff primarily sucks the shine right off my lapel pin...this band is just too fucking white even to master the bleached out rhythms of the disco era, and I'm convinced that's what they were trying to accomplish. 

Otherwise, despite a strong feeling of overfamiliarity with a lot of these songs like I blathered about a few paragraphs ago, there's just not much material here that ranks among its songwriters' best.  Frey sounds particularly burnt out, pinching off a grindingly ugly slow-mo metal tune that sounds like a Kiss 45 played on 33 rpm called 'Teenage Jail', a counfoundingly popular hit 'Heartache Tonight' that sounds like a slowed down 'James Dean' without the fun quotient, and parts of shitty shitballs like 'King of Hollywood' and 'The Greeks Don't Want No Freaks' (which high-lar-yusly parodies New Wave bands by playing a Farfisa organ over a track that my co-worker correctly deduced 'sounds like Huey Lewis'. Let me please escape this discussion with a 'yipe!') 

The best songs on The Long Run are very clearly the most tasteful ones.  On other records, they might be considered boring side-pieces, but here they're glittering attractions. Joe Walsh's 'In The City' isn't too special when compared to his other well-known hits, but it's not bad for a solid, basic rocker and sounds like the second coming of Sticky Fingers when compared to the rest of this stuff. Joe's slide is always a pleasure, as is his redneck-Ozzy Osbourne vocal delivery, it's just that the song isn't particularly deep. New guy Timothy B.(itch Slapper) Schmidt plays disco bass throughout, and makes an impressive vocal debut on the Easy Listening classic 'I Can't Tell You Why'.  This one, also a massive hit, is mixed so low the buzz from my crappy-ass amplifier almost drowns it out, but is nonetheless beautifully sung and has by far the best melody on the record. Gentle is the word, and among a record full of brash, loud screams, this whisper comes across all the more successfully.

Besides the disco and the bizarre novelty tracks (how else would you describe 'Teenage Jail'?) the most puzzling thing about The Long Runs is that it took them almost half a decade to complete. This was a band that released albums once a year like clockwork, and all of a sudden it takes them an entirely excessive amount of time to produce a new record, and when it comes out it's filled up with an undue number of jokes and throwaways.  Even the good songs aren't that good. Can you imagine this was originally intended to be a double album? I mean, what the fuck was that supposed to be? Did they really sit down and hem and haw over whether they should leave on 'The Greeks Don't Want No Freaks' versus something worse? How bad was that other shit? I guess to the average radio listener who only heard 'Heartache Tonight' and 'I Can't Tell You Why', everything was fine, but to anyone else who cared, this album had to be a major disappointment. I think my reviews have shown that the Eagles never did actually come up with a true winner of an album, but they sure as hell were capable of better things than this.

Capn's Final Word: This band fizzled out like a wet bottle rocket.

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Live - Asylum 1980.

What's the point of an Eagles double live album? Especially when it's considered that this one is infamous for containing more overdubs than 'Bohemian Rhapsody', that it's not really even live? And even if they were raw, unretouched live tapes, they're still gonna play each and every song like its written on the page, even going so far as to have string backing included on 'Desperado' and 'Take It To The Limit'.  Now, I'm no Alex Trebek or nothin', but I at least know that string-orchestra technology was pretty limited in the late 70's.  If you were a touring outfit and wanted to include a bunch of orchestras and shit in your live show, you had three choices: 1) the Mellotron, which has a very distinctively unrealistic sound that screams out 'I'm playing a Mellotron here! Listen to the tape loops sttreeeeeetttchhh!!!!' 2) An actual string section, which was not only difficult to mic and was a Emerson, Lake, and Palmerian logistical nightmare to move from place to place, but quickly gobbled cash that might be better served on drugs and sports cars to wreck. Finally, 3) prerecorded backing tapes ala Queen or the Who, which is probable.  Thing is, they almost always sound like utter shit when recorded live again (generational loss and all that, wouldn't y' know), so the only conclusion I can come to is that they were added in postproduction, along with about 10 zillion guitar dubs, the massed vocal harmonies on 'Seven Bridges Road' (yeah, that's six dudes singing live, one of them being Joe Walsh, a man who couldn't harmonize his way out of a wet paper bag.  And I'm a Chinese fighter pilot.), the acoustic guitar and mandolin on 'Saturday Night', most of the cheering, and that shockingly un-funny bit of stage banter which introduces Walsh at the beginning of 'Life's Been Good'. 

The song selection here, which should be elementary, turns out a colossal failure.  Only a skull-fracture victim would include three songs from Desperado and not see fit that one of them is 'Tequila Sunrise'. Right, they play 'Desperado', which I could've guessed, but also include such questionable choices as the 'Doolin-Dalton' reprise, 'Wasted Time', and 'Saturday Night'.  Where's 'Lyin Eyes', fer Chrissakes? 'One of These Nights'? Not to mention hat they could've played some of their overlooked album-track classics like....erm....uhh....okay, they don't have any. But 'Doolin-Dalton'? I suppose the band was so busy being hacked off at each other by 1980 that they couldn't even agree on what songs would sequence a decent live album.  Two of the three moments of minor pleasure brought on by the song selections are all Joe Walsh's, and one is Randy Meisner's. Joe gets to play his raucous solo hits 'All Night Long' and 'Life's Been Good', both of which are so much livelier than the rest of this stuff it sounds like a different band - like, well....Joe Walsh's band, for lack of any better descriptives.  You'd think they'd be able to carry this good spirit over to the similarly rockin' 'Life In The Fast Lane', but they contrive one of the biggest train wrecks in live album history, just a notch below the scale of the mini-Hindenburg that killed a bunch of Commies up there in North Korea a few days ago.  Okay, maybe not that bad...they never actually stop playing or anything, but never once do the dual lead guitars even come close to being together here. 

The other moment of sanctity and deliverance comes when 'Take It to the Limit', always one of the Eagles better tracks, begins and we realize, hey! Randy Meisner's singing, just like God and the forces of nature intended! See, they included three tracks from the 1976 tour, just so's Randy wouldn't be forgotten.  That's nice of them, tippin' their hat to the founder of the band like that, but I have a sneaky suspicion that they just didn't have enough decent 1979-tour material to fill up an album.  Again, just like trying to figure out how repulsive the outtakes from The Long Run must've been, let's imagine for a second how bad the Live source tapes must've been if they had to doctor them up like they did and still couldn't cover up the messy guitar leads and poor rhythm section work.  Pass this by.  It's false advertising.

Capn's Final Word: Don't be fooled.  This album's got as much reconstructive work as Jerry Jones. Besides, don't you already own the Greatest Hits album? Everyone else does.

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Hell Freezes Over - Digital Sound 1994.

Late but not absent from the mid-90's retro revival, the Eagles reformed for that most Baby Boomer of musical events, an MTV Unplugged session.  Following their 1980 breakup, the individual members of the Eagles went through solo careers of varying success, from Joe Walsh's long slide from solo career kingdom into Ringo's All-Starr Band permanent residency, Glenn Frey's two minutes in the sun writing hit songs for the Beverly Hills Cop II and Miami Vice soundtracks, Don Henley's sporadically huge success, and Schmidt and Felder's descent into guest-sideman hell. By 1994, it was clear that the only way for most of these guys to generate the bread with which they'd become accustomed was to reunite and climb on the $150-a-seat boomer tour cow to sing endless versions of 'Wasted Time' and 'Hotel California' to blitzed old people driving $50,000 SUV's screaming their names. Let's just say there was little hesitation and that the Eagles train has been comin' round every few years ever since.

Despite whatever you think of their motivations, the good news is that Hell Freezes Over as an album is a great improvement over the comatose Live from 1980, actually including some interesting, quiet takes on the Eagles lighter fare that often improve on the source studio material.  Plus, I get the feeling that the vinyl surgery that was so apparent on the last live album has been foregone here.  This is actually the Eagles, actually playing what you're actually hearing on your theoretical stereo. Schmidt's 'I Can't Tell You Why' is AM Radio-perfect, and although I never was partial to Walsh's 'Pretty Maids All in a Row' off California, here it's nice. The acoustic flamenco version of 'Hotel California' is also a nice reprieve from yet another hyper-octane guitar wankathon.  Otherwise, you'll find some duffers ('The Last Resort'...why, God, why?) and some unrevelatory runthroughs ('Take It Easy'), and you'll get a nice, long look at the Eagles' limitations...they simply aren't imaginative enough to do anything with most of these songs except crank 'em out the same way they did twenty years earlier. They don't fuck up 'Life In the Fast Lane' like they did on Live, but the fact that they included several of the same songs on both of their consecutive live releases in highly similar form has gotta tell you...they simply don't have that many good songs to play in concert, and don't do anything interesting with the ones they have.

The band makes an odd choice to include four new studio tracks right there at the beginning of the CD instead of the end like is customary, and I wouldn't call it a wise move.  They must think that they really generated some good stuff, but the simple fact is that outside Schmidt's typically understated 'Love Will Keep Us Alive', none of these tracks are very good, even by Eagles standards.  Frey finds yet another uninteresting way to rewrite his tried-and-true slow, weepy country heartbreak ballad on 'The Girl From Yesterday', which has only a sweet steel guitar to redeem it.  The opening rocker 'Get Over It' is simply a relentless parade of cranky, cynical 90's bullshit buzzwords damning hypocrisy, self-victimization, petty grudges, and lack of responsibility (i.e., pretty much everything the Eagles were guilty of in the late 1970's) over some completely uninteresting mid-tempo rock.  Henley's 'Learn to Be Still' and 'New York Minute' are similarly irritating. The Eagles have always been hacks, but when you take this long to generate some new material, the least you can do is to make it more interesting than the lowliest filler on your disappointing final studio album.

Capn's Final Word: Can anyone say, 'We did it for the money!'? A crazily uninteresting bunch of live tracks filling space next to some awful studio ones.

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