Review Summary: Welcome to the 1970s.
This week, I recieved a parcel from Amazon, which had an advert for the new Eagles album emblazoned across the cardboard packaging. Okay, so it's advertising; you ignore it and move on. And yet, thanks to a topic that's been playing on my mind recently, this struck as particularly remarkable for two reasons. The first is that it's odd to find a new album by a band as established, as ingrained into the American consciousness as The Eagles being promoted at all, especially in a medium that's going to reach millions of people who have no interest in the music of The Eagles.
The second is that the slogan was 'Remember when music used to sound this good?'. Typical dad-rock bull***, of course. But in context it's a powerful image. It goes without saying that the events of 9/11 have altered the general consciousness of the entire world, America in particular, and that's manifested itself throughout popular music in several ways. Consider, for the purpose of this review, the seemingly endless stream of reunion tours and reunion albums. I needn't cite examples - anyone who's been paying attention to music recently is liable to have found out that one of their favourite artists has either reunited or released their first album in over 10 years. Actually, 10 years is nothing - this is the first full album of original Eagles material since 1979. For those of you who can't be bothered with the maths, that's a gap of 28 years
. Significantly, it's supposedly been 6 years in the making. 2007 minus 6 years? Bingo - 2001.
So the point is this. Many Americans feel that, on some level, America's national identity has been threatened by the terrorist threat, real or perceived, since 9/11. This has led to the desire amongst an awful lot of people to return to an earlier time, or at least be reminded of a time before 9/11, through music - and within that, a large audience want to be reminded of what they might call 'the good old days' of America. With the likely exception of Bruce Springsteen, The Eagles are probably the first source they turn to. This is, let us not forget, the biggest selling American band of all time, and the band responsible for the biggest selling album ever in America. To quote the old cliche, they're as American as baseball cards and apple pie. They're a symbol - THE symbol, perhaps - of 1970s America, a time that most Americans would probably feel more comfortable living in than the world they're faced with now. 'Remember when music sounded this good', indeed.
But what does this all means musically
? That's up for debate, but really, I think you'd have to say that it means The Eagles can't really fail if they use even the most basic smarts. To be a resounding success to the people who are anticipating this album most, to get people talking about it, and to sell as well as an Eagles album should, it needs to follow some simple rules.
1) Don't mess with the 'classic' Eagles sound.
2) Address terrorism in a tame, vague way at some point.
3) Address global warming in a tame, vague way at some point.
4) Address America in a tame, vague way at some point.
And that's it. Long Road Out of Eden
doesn't actually need to be a good album; just one with no obvious flaws.
And that's basically what it is. This album advertizes, from its first few seconds, just how vehemently it's stuck in the past. The unashamedly '60s vocal harmonies of "No More Walks In The Wood", the FM-friendly classic rock of "How Long" ("Take It Easy" Part 2), the power balladry of "What Do I Do With My Heart", the almost Scott Jopin-esque piano of "Guilty of the Crime" - well, what did you expect, post-rock? The Eagles have made precisely zero effort to modernise their sound, and you almost feel like they're gloating about it - the first minute of the title track is a red herring that flirts with world music before wondering into another trademarked and stamped Eagles song. The greatest departure is "Fast Company", a slice of cod-funk that boasts a vocal turn obviously inspired by Prince and a thumping bass borrowed directly from the '80s. Surprise surprise - it's the worst song on the album. No other song here would have been out of place on Desperado
or The Long Run
, and if "How Long" had made its way onto the second half of Hotel California
, it'd have improved the album. Later there's even "Somebody", a song written by the same ghostwriter responsible for "Peaceful Easy Feeling".
As far as acknowledging the world around them goes, they've done a stellar job of being almost entirely non-committal. The attention-grabbing title "I Dreamed There Was No War" is given to a short instrumental, meaning that any listener can think exactly what they like about how The Eagles feel about the war (or, in fact, ANY war). The only straight-talking track that deals with the big issues head-on is "Frail Grasp On The Big Picture", and despite the obvious good intent, even that feels a little distanced from grim reality. The title track is also apparently anti-war, but buries its messages deep enough within its words that anyone who's not looking for the message (or, more pressingly, doesn't want to hear that viewpoint) won't find it. "No More Walks In The Wood" bemoans the fact that 'all the trees have been cut down' and 'we made our own weather', and fair play for sticking this song right at the front of the album, but global warming has become such a tired issue by now that you find yourself wishing for a little more than those two lines. The same goes for the digs at consumerism and the American media taken on the title track (the line 'the good old USA' is delivered without irony), although it does become more cutting as the song progresses.
So it's simple. Like The Eagles? You'll like this. Don't like The Eagles? The Eagles don't care. And yet, with the mind-boggling figures they've put up in their career, they're entitled. For an outsider like me, who appreciates their major songs but wouldn't consider themselves a fan, it's hard to muster any opinion at all. The music here is as accomplished as you'd wish for from a line-up celebrating their 30th anniversary as a unit (the guitar of the fired Don Felder isn't missed, incidentally), but it's just so safe
. Two discs and no risks makes it a slightly draining experience to take in full - particularly, the schmaltzy ballads ("You Are Not Alone" and "I Love To Watch A Woman Dance", for instance) are a little hard to swallow. Still, this will undoubtedly rack up numerous positive reviews, because they haven't played with a winning formula - for better or worse, it's the most predictable album of the year.