- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Eagles

Long Road Out of Eden

Eagles Recording Co.

You can check out any time you like, but it will take you an hour-and-a-half to leave “Long Road out of Eden,” the Eagles’ first studio album in 28 years.

Given the long absence — and the myriad faux-farewell performances that have followed since the California supergroup’s 1994 reunion — it’s understandable the Eagles would want to deliver a Cheesecake Factory-sized serving of new music.

So it’s no surprise there’s a lot of empty carbs alongside the protein here.

There are at least two distinguishable strands on this “Hotel California Sprawl” of a comeback album: a decent, grown-up reflection on war, consumerism and media culture; and, well, a bunch of other songs that don’t add up to much at all.

The centerpiece of what’s good about “Long Road Out of Eden” is its meaty title track. Even at 10-plus minutes, it’s not a note too long.

After a ghostly Middle Eastern flourish, a Wurlitzer piano establishes a groove that follows the Tom Petty hit “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” Then singer Don Henley unleashes a dystopian vision of American oil-bingeing and empire-building, humanized by a soldier’s confused, homesick lament: “I’m not counting on tomorrow/And I can’t tell wrong from right/But I’d give anything to be there in your arms tonight.”

There’s a serpentine double-guitar solo by Joe Walsh and hired hand Steuart Smith that summons up “Hotel California” glory and a long coda during which a martial snare drum just fades away into parts unknown — a musical question mark that would have made for a perfect final track.

But, no, it really is a long road out of this “Eden,” a 20-track stretch of highway on which the threat of pointless instrumental music, pastoral poetry and other roadside bombs is ever-present.

Take the leadoff a cappella track “No More Walks in the Wood,” which was adapted from verse by John Hollander — nature-worship at its gooiest.

Or the unpardonably misguided funk track “Fast Company,” on which Mr. Henley sings in an unsexy falsetto that’s about three quarts low on soul.

On “What Do I Do with My Heart” and “Do Something,” respectively, Glenn Frey and singer-bassist Timothy B. Schmit vie for the title of “Most Reminiscent of 1985.”

“Last Good Time in Town” opens with a promising hint of the War/Eric Burdon classic “Spill the Wine.” And then, after its lukewarm Latin jazz smoothness is revealed, Mr. Walsh extols the virtues of staying in at night.

Such is a recurring theme of the album: Where once, on classics like “Life in the Fast Lane,” the Eagles gave you rich, observational details of dissipation, now they sound like tired scolds. Break out your smallest violin: “Busy Being Fabulous” complains of a party girl who turned out to be a … party girl.

The wayward subject of “Fast Company” is admonished that she’s going “nowhere fast.” Yesterday’s Don Henley would have watched her flame out with cool indifference; today’s Don Henley really cares. I hope I don’t sound callous when I say I prefer the former.

When not composing on their own, the Eagles turn to longtime songwriting pals such as Jack Tempchin and Larry John McNally to revive the archetypal ghost. The album’s breezy lead single, “How Long,” is more than 30 years old and was written by the guy (J.D. Souther) who co-wrote several of the band’s biggest hits.

But “Eden” doesn’t recall the high-Eagles era often enough; it’s a fragmentary work that tends toward the solo sound of Mr. Henley. Songs like “Waiting in the Weeds,” “Business as Usual” and “Frail Grasp on the Big Picture” could have figured on late-‘80s Henley efforts such as “The End of the Innocence.”

Mr. Frey admirably tries to stick to the old playbook of rootsy country rock. His take on Mr. McNally’s south-of-the-border ballad “I Love to Watch a Woman Dance” is first-rate, and his own “No More Cloudy Days,” despite its trite lyrics, is an effective soft-rock shuffle.

But on “You are Not Alone,” he flounders around a melody filched from John Lennon’s “Oh Yoko.”

What’s most disappointing about “Eden” is that, even when it’s good, it’s sonically enveloped by the technological bells and whistles of the modern recording era. There’s generally too much synthesizer; the guitar tracks lack genuine tube-amp crunch; and the vocal harmonies — still the group’s greatest asset — are digitally bled dry of real feeling.

Today’s Eagles sound less like California country rock than Nashville pop country.

Depending on how you feel about the Eagles, that’s either an unfortunate concession to trends or proof of what you’ve suspected all along.

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