What does it sound like?:
Hotel California is The Eagles best-selling album and widely regarded as their masterpiece. It was released in December 2016, so this ’40th Anniversary’ edition is a year late. The original album is expanded with a second disc of a concert recording but no other bonus material.
At the time of its creation, The Eagles were the most successful group in the world. A new category for sales, platinum, was invented for the phenomenon that was their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) package. One Of These Nights, the previous album, had defined a genre, Country-Rock. With success came groupies, cocaine, heavy drinking, constant travelling and a divorce from reality. Black Sabbath, no strangers to hedonism themselves, were impressed by the amount of cocaine they had to clear out of the mixing desk after an Eagles recording session. Bernie Leadon, the provider of their Country heart, had left to escape the excess, to be replaced by a Rock guitarist, Joe Walsh, shifting their sound to one that could fill stadiums.
As with any successful outfit, there was pressure to continue to deliver. Don Henley, the band’s drummer, became the dominate voice, literally and lyrically. Of the eight songs, he wrote six and sings lead on five. Don Felder came up with the melody for the title track but Henley spent the nights driving through the desert seeking inspiration for lyrics to match his music. The wordplay is undoubtedly very clever, full of double meanings, delivered with his mournful croon. It conjures up mysterious, disturbing images, of a mirage or a dream, especially the pay-off line, “You can check out any time you like but you can never leave.” The Eagles once toured with Jethro Tull. The chord sequence resembles We Used To Know but Ian Anderson is phlegmatic enough not to hold a grudge and acknowledges that Hotel California is a brilliant song. Steely Dan inspire one line, a repost to one of the tracks on The Royal Scam, released just as The Eagles started recording Hotel California, and the rhythm shares a lot with Haitian Divorce, but even the mighty Dan could not fail to be impressed by the triple guitar interplay, particularly in the last two minutes of the song. All that debauchery and lavish expenditure was worthwhile for the luxuriant looping and weaving between Walsh, Felder and Glenn Frey. Guitar heaven.
However, the first single, preceding the album by a week, was New Kid In Town. This is the softest, goose feather soft, soft-rock. It enjoys a delicate, classic Eagles melody and blissful harmonies and would have fit perfectly on One Of These Nights. So much for harder-edged Stadium Rock. It went to number one.
A Joe Walsh riff lights up Life In The Fast Lane, as Frey celebrates his life on the edge. It is written in the third person, but really the events he describes are autobiographical. Wasted Time is a gentle lament for a broken relationship, the strings somewhat overwhelming the harmonies. There is a brief instrumental reprise to begin side two. Interestingly, Jim Ed Norman, the conductor and arranger of the strings, gets a writing co-credit for the reprise. What he does on the reprise that he doesn’t also do on the actual song is unclear.
Victim Of Love is another rocker. The instrumental parts were recorded in a single take but it still sounds weak and mundane compared to Life In The Fast Lane. Pretty Maids All In A Row is something of an embarrassment. It does not show Joe Walsh’s songwriting talent in a good light. In fact, the nursery rhyme displays far more imagination and a way with words. Randy Meisner gets his customary one song. Try And Love Again sees him on the horns of a dilemma, the cusp of a decision, a fraction from following his dream. It’s a familiar feeling. Try And Love Again is simply a watered down version of Take It To The Limit, less than a tenth as dramatic and involving.
The finale, The Last Resort, is the antithesis of the title track, the opposite side of the same coin. The barely-there melody is slow and sweet. The guitars are almost absent, just a little slide. It, too, is a story song, one with cinematic scope. This time paradise has been lost because of greed. It is meant to illustrate the consequences of the devil-may-care attitude in the opener. However, it is cloying and preachy, lacking any light or shade, its seven minute length plodding relentlessly.
CD2 of this Expanded Edition is a live concert recorded weeks before Hotel California was released. It gets off to a clunky start with Take It Easy, but is then followed by a transcendent Take It To The Limit and a beautiful New Kid In Town, both showcasing The Eagles collective vocal talent. Thereafter, it’s a guitar fest all the way with James Dean, Witchy Woman and Already Gone, especially, benefiting from the extra Joe Walsh fire power and his propensity to solo. Here is proof positive of their prowess at Stadium Rock. They were onto something: lovely melodies, sweet harmonies and rawk guitar sounds like a winning formula on this performance.
You can just buy the remastered album or you can go for the Super Deluxe which has a third Blue-Ray disc with surround sound. The remaster isn’t markedly different to previous editions but the live set is great value.
What does it all *mean*?
Is it possible for one song to elevate an entire album to classic status? Hotel California, the track, is fabulous, as fabulously fabulous as George Clooney in a silk shirt and a cashmere suit, sipping coffee, with his deliciously clever wife on his arm. The rest of Hotel California is scarcely fit to share the same piece of vinyl. Only a couple of songs are worthy of inclusion on a classic album.
Don Henley talks a good album. He claims there is a concept here but the evidence of the lyrics don’t support his case. Three of the eight songs do share themes around degeneracy but there is no higher, grander revelation of the human condition, despite his intentions.
Hotel California’s performance, commercially and critically, was non too shabby. However, in the end, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours outdid it for song quality, hum-ability, decadence, complex themes, sales and Grammies.
Goes well with…
A Beverley Hills hotel at dusk and the sickly aroma of marijuana.
Spare a thought for the cover. The designer, Josh Kosh, is also responsible for Abbey Road and Who’s Next. Place all three LP covers side by side on the floor and rank them in order. Which comes third?
Might suit people who like…
Twin-necked guitars. One Of These Nights, The Royal Scam and Rumours, all of which are *better*.