CD Review of Long Road Out of Eden by Eagles
Recommended if you like
Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh
Label
Eagles Recording Company
Eagles:
Long Road Out of Eden

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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I
t took 28 years to arrive, but the moment Wal-Mart shareholders have been waiting for is finally here: Long Road Out of Eden, the first Eagles studio album since 1979’s The Long Run, is on shelves – all 20 tracks of it – and you can take it home for the low, low price of just $11.88. (As long as you can get yourself to a Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club, that is. But more on that in a minute.)

In the years since their hookers-‘n’-blow-fueled implosion in 1980, it’s become extremely fashionable to hate on the Eagles, not only because they were (and remain) hugely popular, but because, to a lot of people, the band’s music is emblematic of ‘70s artifice and excess. The Eagles didn’t invent their signature country-rock sound, but they sold more albums than the artists who did – and as much as people once identified with the easy cynicism of Don Henley and cornpone balladry of Glenn Frey, their respective solo albums highlighted their deficiencies. The nostalgic revivals of the band’s artistic forebears – including Gram Parsons and the Byrds – have only served to further illuminate the gulf between what the Eagles tried to sound like and what they actually were.

All that Eagles-bashing was an overreaction, though; even if the band’s albums don’t necessarily deserve to rank among the best-selling titles in history, they’re extremely well-crafted. Even after 13 years of touring behind those old albums, the band continues to sell out arenas at jacked-up prices, and it’s awfully hard to argue with that kind of commercial staying power – which is why a new addition to the catalog was probably inevitable.

Not that anyone in the band needs to bother worrying about what anyone thinks of Long Road Out of Eden, but you’ve got to give them credit for having the balls to try and make something new; between years of pent-up demand, unreasonable expectations, and a record business in precipitous decline, it seems unlikely that the Eagles will be able to inspire the kind of boomer love they commanded in ’79 (or even ’94). It certainly doesn’t help that the band has chosen to make Eden available exclusively at Wal-Mart and the official Eagles site – even if they are one of the biggest bands in the world, why limit fans’ purchase options so drastically? And why do it by catering to the kind of big-box mega-merchant that Henley has spent decades publicly railing against?

We always knew Henley was an enthusiastic cynic – perhaps he’s been hiding the heart of an ironist all along. Or maybe this was really the best deal anyone at retail had to offer a band unwilling to hitch its wagon to any of the industry’s major distributors. Either way, the band’s scruples are theirs to sell, and they aren’t really related to the music – even if the Wal-Mart deal does make it difficult not to snicker more loudly than usual at Henley’s typical diatribes against mindless consumption and corporate greed.

Yes, nearly three decades later, Henley’s still pissed off about almost everything – and Frey can still be counted on for a dunderheaded ballad or two, Timothy B. Schmit still sounds like Christopher Cross’ younger sister, and Joe Walsh still rocks harder than the rest of the band put together (which is, admittedly, not the hardest thing in the world to do). In other words, the band’s musical outlook remains largely unchanged – and, as it turns out, that’s just fine.

Opening track “No More Walks in the Woods” is an a cappella number, which is a nifty way for the band to dip its toes back into the water after the long layoff; hearing those trademark harmonies again, in the context of an all-new studio album, isn’t quite as satisfying a thrill as, say, the opening notes of Steely Dan’s Two Against Nature, but it comes surprisingly close. From there on out, the band runs through its small artistic gamut; nearly every track on Eden seems to have been carefully calculated (if not outright engineered) to evoke one of the group’s previous highlights. It’s as if the years 1980-2006 never happened, which is really what a large portion of the Eagles’ target demographic would probably prefer.

Token concessions to the 21st century aside (such as the annoying drum machine in the terrible, Frey-led “What Do I Do with My Heart”), Long Road Out of Eden hearkens strongly back to the ‘70s, when coke and barbiturates were good for you, the scent of colitas was strong in the breeze, and male songwriters were nauseatingly sensitive. Schmit (with the help of Paul Carrack, who wrote the track, and thus deserves most of the blame) revives ‘70s Mellow Gold here with “I Don’t Want to Hear Any More” (for an in-depth look at the song, courtesy of our friend Jason Hare, click here). Walsh takes the lead on a pair of rockers strongly reminiscent of his happy-stoner ‘70s hits, “Guilty of the Crime” and “Last Good Time in Town.” Henley, as previously mentioned, oozes anger and disillusionment all over half the set, from “Busy Being Fabulous” to the “Life in the Fast Lane” update, “Frail Grasp on the Big Picture.” And Frey? He still sucks, albeit not as powerfully as he did on his shitty solo albums (the lone exception being the unctuous “I Love to Watch a Woman Dance,” which will fill you with the urge to take a hot shower and scrub off the memory of lines like “Her warm breath against my neck, slowly breaking down my will”).

There’s a fair amount of filler here, but all things considered, far less than you might expect. Even if Long Road Out of Eden does nothing to advance the band’s sound or outlook, it feels remarkably spry for a 20-song collection, and goes down smooth. Unlike most albums with protracted births, it actually feels like it benefited from the extra time – the production is immaculate, the songs enjoyable (or at least mostly inoffensive), and the harmonies bright and glassy. It’s hard to imagine what else an Eagles fan could hope for, other than the ability to order the damn thing from Amazon or buy it at an actual record store. A near-total success, in other words.

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