Hotel California


Asylum Records, 1976

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Man, is this album dull. Well, most of it, anyway.

Maybe I had to be there. The Eagles are a hugely popular group with two of the best-selling albums of all time, this one and their first greatest hits. This one, of course, is where the band took a turn away from their country/roots rock approach and turned toward straight rock with the addition of Joe Walsh on guitar, but his presence only really invigorates the band's sound on a handful of tracks.

Granted, "Life in the Fast Lane" is a deserved hit, a decadent road trip that encapsulates the album's central concepts and a sunny California sunset in the mid-70s. The title track is also classic, the melancholy acoustic guitar opening setting the tone for the metaphorical story to follow. It's the most ambitious the Eagles had ever been on record, and when the last verse ("you can never leave") gives way to the solo, it's both chilling and freeing. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

But good Lord, couldn't some of that effort have been put into the rest of this album? The ponderous, serious, dull "New Kid in Town" and "Wasted Time" completely wipe out any good will from the two aforementioned tracks, ending the first side with a thud. Side 2 shows some promise with the Walsh vehicle "Victim of Love," which struts with panache, but his "Pretty Maids All In A Row" is yet another ballad even worse than Henley's from the first side. "Try and Love Again" is mediocre but sounds the most like classic Eagles, and "The Last Resort" is a seven-minute opus that attempts to say something grand (look! Strings!) but falls flat.

I just can't get excited about listening to this album, and with the three best tracks in rotation on classic rock radio, there's no reason to. And surely the Eagles are one of the "dinosaurs" that caused the punk, disco and alt-rock rebellions only one year after this album. But there is a certain appeal to the band's Everyman sound and in the concept of Hotel California, which captures the laziness, sunniness, selfishness and lurking decadence of California in the '70s and sets it to a classic Americana sound. Only Steely Dan was telling these kinds of stories around this time (at least, from this detached perspective...the singer/songwriters down in Laurel Canyon were a few years ahead). 

But it never coheres into the classic it could have been, and three of nine songs does not a great album make. 

Rating: C+

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