Review Summary: When happily ever after fails.......
Don Henley was a natural match for the 1980’s. As the chief song architect of seminal California classic rock band The Eagles, Henley’s songwriting arrangements grew exponentially with his own self sense of self worth, the latter trait contributing highly to the group’s sudden demise in 1980. Embarking on his solo career in the early 80’s, Henley embraced the quintessential elements of the decade from both a cultural and musical perspective on hits like “Dirty Laundry,” “All She Wants to Do is Dance,” and “Boys of Summer,” aligning his unique ability to conjure enormously catchy pop with the bombastic, over the top proclivities of the decade. As the decade came to a halt, Henley found himself at a crossroads in his personal life, and while 1989 may not be instantly memorable from a musical perspective, it certainly was a watershed year for Henley. The release of “The End of the Innocence” earmarks a pivotal point in Henley’s life, combining his stalwart appreciation for grandiosity with a self prescriptive cure for the dreaded mid life crisis.
“The End of the Innocence,” like most of Henley’s work, is sonically best described as carefully constructed adult rock, embracing the collision of poppy hooks and choruses with an intentionally polished sheen. Musically, everything about the album is huge, from its 5 year production time, the legion of celebrity guest performers, and the instantly gripping atmosphere tailor made to feed the top 40 assembly line. Perhaps owing to his unique persona, Henley has little concern for bloat, pounding out numerous 5-6 minute songs that may not necessarily meld to the pop formula, but fully compensating with epic arrangements by genre standards. The cornucopia of big choruses, melodic piano, layered synths, gospel singers, orchestras, and simplistically catchy guitar work is at times epic and at times pop by numbers, but it is overridingly obvious Henley was shooting for something big on “The End of The Innocence,” and the success of the album left little debate to the legitimacy of achieving that goal.
Although it is nearly impossible to hear “The End of the Innocence” without immediately giving a knowing smirk to 80’s sonic bombast, the real story of the record resides in its lyrical and storytelling themes. Although Henley cannot resist getting preachy at times (“Give Me What You Got,” “If Dirt Were Dollars,”) the thesis of the record is awash in portrayals of mid-life angst, (I Will Not Go Quietly) fear, (New York Minute), yearning, (The Last Worthless Evening), and at times, acceptance (title track, “The Heart of the Matter.”) While a great deal of 80’s pop albums were more concerned with leading to a good time, Henley utilizes the pulpit of rock music to lay his soul bare, tearing himself to pieces with conflicting ideals of nostalgia, redemption, self doubt, and lecturing social commentary. The themes intertwine across the record, as “Shangri-la” and “Little Tin God” find Henley admonishing the self serving avarice of others, while he ironically ends up eviscerating himself on “How Bad Do You Want It.” “The Last Worthless Evening” and “New York Minute” are melodically constructed pop singles and both rely on singular character development, but the story ends in dramatically different fashions for the protagonists, the former showcasing victory and the latter lamenting the effects of crushing loss. It seems Henley’s characters are often at war with themselves, owing to the ongoing idea that "men get lost sometimes as years unfurl."
“The End of the Innocence,” much like the central theme of its beautifully constructed, watershed title track, is a bare canvas of adult struggle, with colors and layers provided by a yearning for acceptance and the embracement of life lessons at the altar of a continuous reality check. Henley never skimps on nostalgia throughout, but perhaps his greatest longing is for redemption, and the process of achieving this elusive beast has never been described more perfectly than on album closer “The Heart of the Matter,” an inspiring story of how forgiveness is the recipe for overcoming pain and doubt. From an overall listening perspective, there are times when the album either bloats or the lyrics do not always coincide well with sonic templates. The title track and “Heart of the Matter” are the true standouts and saviors, and the soul searching, redemptive themes colliding with gorgeous melodies prescribe lasting musical legitimacy.
Unlike most major pop albums from the era, “The End of the Innocence” pays great heed to self awareness, lessons, and mature depth. It may be cliché to describe the album simply as “pop with a message,” but the precision of Henley’s lamentations flavor well with the over the top sonic nature of an 80’s album. Henley’s greatest legacy will probably always reside in the legendary annals of Eagles history, but “The End of the Innocence” cemented his reputation as a solo artist, and more importantly, a storyteller. “Hotel California” can win points for being epic, but tracks like “The End of the Innocence” and “The Heart of the Matter” provide the album with a foundation of more realistic life stories.
The End of the Innocence
The Heart of the Matter
New York Minute
The Last Worthless Evening
I Will Not Go Quietly
Little Tin God