Eagles have missed their landing

November 8, 2007


Though top-dollar reunion tours and their prevailing influence on mainstream country has kept them on the cultural radar, it’s been an astounding 28 years since the Eagles’ last new album, “The Long Run” (1979). In many ways, the 20 songs on this sprawling double disc hardly sound like the same band: There’s less rock in their country-rock these days then there was on Garth Brooks’ one and only album as his alter ego, Chris Gaines. But it’s the brand name that matters, and the California musicians’ gambit of exclusively selling their new music through Wal-Mart paid off with first-week sales reportedly topping 700,000.

From the precious and pretentious a cappella number that opens disc one, “No More Walks in the Wood” (“No more walks in the wood / The trees have all been cut down”) through the epic title track that launches disc two with a leaden bid to craft a sequel to the enduringly creepy “Hotel California” (“Freeways flickering, cell phones chiming a tune / We’re riding to Utopia, road map says we’ll be arriving soon”), this is a painstakingly well-crafted and pristinely recorded effort. But with a too-skimpy handful of exceptions — including the lilting “How Long,” an ancient nugget penned by the band’s old pal, J.D. Souther — it’s pretty much a joyless collection of uneasy feelings paired with sounds so peaceful they’re often downright somnambulant.

The cause of the Eagles’ sleepy-time angst? Well, in addition to the environment, primary songwriters Don Henley and Glenn Frey (who get plenty of help along the way) are also plenty bothered by the frivolous gossip press, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the hypocrisy of the religious right (“And we pray to our Lord / Who we know is American… He supports us in war / He presides over football games”) and our nation’s conspicuous consumption and dangerous overindulgence (“We worship at the marketplace while common sense is going out of style”).

How do lyrics such as those, from “Frail Grasp on the Big Picture” and “Business as Usual,” square with the politics of Wal-Mart’s corporate honchos and what many critics call the company’s monopolistic, anti-labor, big business-uber-alles practices? They don’t, but consistency has never been the band’s strong point. That was easier to live with when the still-impressive harmonies powered great songs such as “Lyin’ Eyes,” “Tequila Sunrise” and “Desperado.” But here, it’s just so much phony wrapping trying to pretty up an empty package.