Top 5: Back on the Road With the Eagles

(Edited to fix a YouTube link.)

Before the Eagles’ Long Road Out of Eden came out, I feared its 20-song length, based on the nearly inarguable fact that double albums are almost never as solid as single-disc sets. But it’s a much stronger album start-to-finish than I was ready for. It ain’t Hotel California, and some of it isn’t even especially Eagle-ish. But as a whole, it’s a strong dose of the Eagles’ classic sound of the 1970s, and that what anybody who buys it is looking for, no?

Let’s start with the five best tracks on the record. I’ve only listened to it twice, so this list could change as time goes by.

5.-4. “Long Road Out of Eden”/”I Dreamed There Was No War.” The title track, which runs 10:17, beats the Eagles’ previous long-song record by 2 1/2 minutes. It’s about corporate rule, conspicuous consumption, and the perils of empire, starting with a slow-smoldering electric piano before it picks up steam, and ending with martial drums that conjure up the image of zombies marching, which is not an accident. It’s followed immediately by the album’s shortest track, “I Dreamed There Was No War,” a pretty guitar-and-strings instrumental that stands in stark contrast to the track before. That’s also not an accident.

3. “No More Walks in the Wood.” I mentioned the Eagles’ trademark vocal harmonies in a post here the other day. This track, which opens the album, is a strong showcase for those harmonies. Think “Seven Bridges Road.”

2. “How Long.” This tune, written by longtime Eagles collaborator J. D. Souther, has been on the radio for several weeks already. It sounds like an outtake from On the Border, and I mean that as a compliment. According to Rolling Stone‘s review of the album, the Eagles used to play this live in the early 70s but never recorded it.

1. “Waiting in the Weeds”. It shouldn’t surprise anybody who read this blog last month that I’d dig a song about remembering the past and wishing the best of it could come around again. “Waiting in the Weeds” feels a bit too long and then just sort of stops rather than ending, but it’s lovely nevertheless.

Of the 20 songs, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit get two each, if I’m counting correctly. (Jason Hare fisks Schmit’s “I Don’t Want to Hear Anymore” in his usual hilarious fashion here, although I have to say I liked it better the second time I heard it. Same for Schmit’s other song, “Do Something.”) The rest of the album is about evenly divided between Don Henley and Glenn Frey. The two of them swap verses now and then, which rarely happened in days of yore, but when each of them is singing alone, the record becomes the Eagles’ White Album. The songs tend to sound more like each guy’s solo work than they sound like Eagles tunes. Numbered among them are the five weakest performances on the album:

5.-4. “No More Cloudy Days”/”Somebody.” These Frey songs aren’t bad; they’re inoffensive, nice, and OK, but ultimately forgettable. Rather like Frey’s solo work in general.

3. “Fast Company.” This could have been the best all-out rocker on the album, from the “Life in the Fast Lane” mold, but Henley wrecks it with an ill-advised vocal that leaps between falsetto and his lowest register. This track, a version of which appeared previously on a Walmart release of the Farewell Tour DVD, is a severely wasted opportunity.

2. “Frail Grasp on the Big Picture.” Another political track of Henley’s, not unlike “Long Road Out of Eden,” except this one goes way over the top. Musically, it reminds me of Henley’s “All She Wants to Do Is Dance,” which I like, but after about three minutes, I felt like I was being beaten with a rubber hose.

1. “I Love to Watch a Woman Dance.” Even before I played the album for the first time, I cringed when I saw this title. I cringed again all the while the song was playing. It wants to be a quivering ballad of love, but this Frey vocal comes about 50 percent wimpy (as I wrote over at Jason’s blog, “It makes Dan Fogelberg sound like Tom Jones”) and 50 percent creepy.

But none of those missteps are enough to make me downgrade the record too much. In the end, I’m a fan, and I’ll put up with a lot from the bands I like. Fortunately, on this record, there’s much more to dig than there is to put up with. In that, I was very pleasantly surprised.

Instant Concert Review: My list of greatest concert moments is a short one: Paul McCartney doing “Yesterday” while accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, Ray Charles doing “What’d I Say,” Steve Winwood rockin’ “Gimme Some Lovin’,” Al Green hitting the stage with “Let’s Get Married.” But I’m going to have to make room for another one: Mavis Staples doing “I’ll Take You There.” Mavis appeared in Madison Wednesday night with Charlie Musselwhite, the North Mississippi Allstars, and New Orleans-style pianist Joe Krown on a show billed as “Solid Blues.” Other highlights: Mavis doing “The Weight”; Charlie doing “Black Water” and “Church Is Out” from his latest album Delta Hardware; and the Allstars (who, with Krown, were the backing band for Mavis and Charlie) doing an unplugged and beautiful “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and a tense, plugged-in version of Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War.” The Solid Blues tour will be on the road for the next 17 nights in a row (dates here)—if you’re a fan of blues and/or classic R&B, get there.

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2 responses

  1. “The songs tend to sound more like each guy’s solo work than they sound like Eagles tunes.”

    You hit the nail right on the head. That’s exactly the feeling I got as well. I’ve listened to the set about four times now, and it does get better with every listen. A few notes:

    1) “Do Something,” no matter how many times I listen, is awful. It’s the gentlest song ever written about getting up off your ass. What’s amusing is that it’s the absolute antithesis of “I Don’t Want To Hear Anymore.” (And I’m with you…that one’s growing on me, but this is the only place I’ll ever admit it.)

    2) “Somebody” was clearly rejected from Miami Vice.

    3) “I Love To Watch A Woman Dance” is a lot more enjoyable if you picture Frey as a perverted stalker.

  2. Rolling Stone observed the peculiarity of the Eagles encouraging involvement in world-saving (in songs like “Do Something”) and criticizing corporatism (“The Long Road out of Eden”), but selling the album exclusively at Walmart.

    “Somebody” definitely has that “You Belong to the City” vibe, doesn’t it?

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