Asylum Records, 1976
REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/28/2006
I am on record at the Vault saying the Eagles suck, as are many of the other reviewers. But if you read closely, you'll notice I never actually criticized the band's music, save for the abominable "Hole In The World." That is because I do like their music and consider Hotel California to be one of the great 70s rock albums.
Some say this is a concept album, but I only see a loose thread in some of the songs. "California" provides the framework for many of the lyrics, but what the hell does "California" represent? It is hard to peg down exactly with such a vague concept.
Of course, the song from the album is the title track. Even people who don't like the Eagles know this track by heart, as they should. It is the epitome of what the band were all about, as well as being one of the definitive tracks of the decade. I've always appreciated the understated beauty of the song; it is certainly not overproduced, as some of the band's other works are. The guitar work is brilliant too; it shades and textures the song; not taking over until the furious final minutes. Don Henley's lyrics are wrapped in shadow, leading the true meaning of the track to be somewhat elusive, and while I know it's about the dark side of the Californian ideal it feels like there is something more there.
Glenn Frey takes a backseat here, with his best moment "New Kid In Town." The harmonies are the highlight, one of the band's strengths, and his lead vocal is gentle, reassuring, perfectly capturing the mood of the song. This is a track to be played when you're sitting outside watching the sunset with a drink.
With the addition of Joe Walsh, the Eagles had the ability to rock harder than they had previously, and they put Walsh to good use on Hotel California. The riffs are catchy and plentiful, and the interplay between Don Felder and Walsh is golden. I would bet that the dueling solos that end "Hotel California" are burned into the memories of anyone who came out of the 70s. "Life In The Fast Lane" is instinctively melodic; I just wish that track itself were faster. It's good, but it never truly "rocks" as it should.
Still, there are tracks from Hotel California that don't get much respect, which is amazing considering how many copies this record has sold. "Try And Love Again" taps directly into the country/rock vibe that the Eagles could pull off so well, featuring a stunning Randy Meisner lead vocal. "The Last Resort" details the end of the frontier, at times deriding the idyllic image California has taken on. Don Henley particularly knocks this track out of the park, with his brooding and intense vocals.
In short, this is the band's finest hour. Hotel California is one of those must-have records, regardless of one's personal feelings about the band members.