March 8, 1995
Eagles, Hell Freezes Over (Geffen 1994) -- Admit it. The Eagles were tremendous when they were in their prime. Henley & Frey were achingly honest songwriters, and the band's studio technique was perfect (the best American studio band since Credence Clearwater Revival). On a warm summer's night, with a cold beer in your hand, songs like "Take it Easy" and "Desperado" were perfect.
But life goes on. Though Hotel California is an extraordinarily coherent album, and one of the best discs of the 70s, by the end of the decade, the tolls of success had destroyed the band. In the words of Don Henley, they would get together again when "Hell Freezes Over."
Fifteen years go by, and a lot of water passes under the dam. Now firmly middle-aged, and with uneven solo careers, the five Eagles (Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Don Felder, Timothy B. Schmidt and Joe Walsh) decide to regroup. In connection with their hugely-profitable summer tour (with ticket prices exceeding $100 a seat), the group recorded Hell Freezes Over before a live MTV audience on April 25-26, 1994.
Ultimately, this 74-minute disc is a disappointment. Or maybe my expectations were just too high. Instead of cutting loose on these 15 tracks, the band attempts to recreate their studio versions. However, their intricate technique and perfect harmonies can't easily be captured live. Moreover, the effect of the 15-year lay-off is apparent; the band hasn't worked this material for many years, and some of the readings seem stuck in a time-warp.
It makes me sad, because I wanted this album to be great. The one truly must-own song on Hell Freezes Over is the reworked version of "Hotel California." Featuring a long, flamenco guitar introduction and a semi-acoustic arrangement, "Hotel California" shows remarkable life, and hence, the enormous capabilities of the band.
Scattered among classic cuts like "Life in the Fast Lane," "Desperado," and "Wasted Time" are four new tracks, including "Get Over" and "Learn to be Still." Though the new songs are likeable, there's nothing about them that stands out.
As a sideline, Alex Coletti, the executive producer for the MTV Unplugged concerts, tells a fascinating story about the Eagles reunion. Coletti reports that the tenth MTV Unplugged show (back in 1989) featured a compelling career retrospective by Don Henley. This gig has never been released on CD, but is reported to have been great.
According to Coletti, "When I walked into Henley's rehearsal the day before taping in L.A., I looked up and saw Glenn Frey sitting in on keyboards. Quicker than you can say 'Eagles reunion', Frey told me 'Don't get excited. I'm leaving for New York.' Damn."
Damn is right. I really wanted to like this album. No, I wanted to love it. Ultimately, we're left with a great hits collection and a reminder of what used to be. Maybe if the band gets back together in the studio, they can cut another masterpiece. We can only hope.
ZZ Top, One Foot in the Blues (Warner Bros. 1994) -- Though ZZ Top may have lost its lustre in recent years, there's no question that this Texas-based power trio is one of America's premier blues rock bands when they crank it up. One Foot in the Blues is a chronicle of the first 20 years of the band (when they recorded for Warners); while it has some characteristics of a greatest hits album, it's really a greatest blues-blast album. And it's rock solid.
Before the Tres Hombres (Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill, and Frank Beard) turned into an overgrown, made-for-MTV arena act, they released some of the most ass-kickin' discs of the 70s, including Tres Hombres and Deguello. The 17 cuts on One Foot in the Blues are selected from throughout ZZ Top's career, and fairly represent the band at its power blues best.
From deep-in-the-Delta numbers like "Hot, Blue and Righteous" to more rocking cuts like "Fool for Your Stockings," One Foot in the Blues will remind you of everything that made ZZ Top great. Also included are hits like "Hi Fi Mama" and "She Loves My Automobile." One of the hidden gems is "Heaven, Hell or Houston" (from El Loco); I hadn't heard this track in years, but the CD reminded me that there's a great (and much overlooked) guitar bridge stuck in the middle of this cut.
If you've never been turned on to ZZ Top, or if you're looking to replace some vinyl, get a hold of One Foot in the Blues. It's a 66-minute primer on how the boogie blues should be played.
Monkees Reissues - Rhino Records, those fine folks from Southern California, have been reissuing the original discs by The Monkees. No matter what you might think about the band, the albums represent a unique slice of musical history. For example, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd. (1968) sold in huge quantities, and contained the big hit, "Pleasant Valley Sunday."
I can't count myself as a big Monkees fan. However, I must give a nod of the head to Rhino for their sterling work on this set. The production work (including the bonus, previously unreleased cuts) is terrific, and the liner notes are detailed and insightful.
Particularly interesting are Michael Nesmith's remembrances. Says Michael (who has released some fine solo albums, including The Newer Stuff, also on Rhino), "We were feeling pretty good about the first season, and about our improvisational and comedic skills.
"However, it was also at the height of Monkee bashing, which was rampant at that point. Everybody in the press and in the hippie movement had got us into their target window as being illegitimate and not worthy of consideration as a musical force.
"We were really getting beat up pretty good. It's very difficult to explain now, especially if you were there - the hatred that was engendered is almost impossible to describe. It lingers to this day among people of my age."
Nesmith's honesty is rare, and lends credibility to the reissue effort. Thanks to Rhino for their always stellar efforts.
-- Randy Krbechek
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