As the quintessential '70s rock band, the Eagles comprised a pop artifact that seemed to draw battle lines wherever its music was heard. Even as it became an international chart buster and garnered phenomenal record-breaking contracts, it took the worst and most persistent critical slamming of any successful group in pop history.
The group's music was slick, calculated and ruthless in the most appealingly vacuous Hollywood way; but what was truly irksome was its easy exploitation of the more embarrassing aspects of a warmed-over '60s Zeitgeist -- the cynicism, solipsism and sexism its harshest critics longed to forget. In retrospect, the Eagles achieved a mirror image of the desperado/stud mentality pervading Hippiedom, while its music, spinning smooth tales of hedonism, male-bonding and the getting and spending of vast sums of money, presaged a massive reactionary swing of the social pendulum.
The Eagles disbanded last year, but the solo efforts of two of its most formidable members find them totally at home in the new decade. Guitarist Glenn Frey's "No Fun Aloud" (Asylum E1-60129) is a highly entertaining collection of light rock made more palatable by a breezy expression of his bar-band roots. Like the debut record he coproduced earlier this year for Lou Ann Barton, this record shows a pleasantly nostalgic penchant for '50s-style rock that complements his thin, narrow vocal range and his perpetual-motion guitar riffing. Indeed, Frey's cover of the Huey Smith/John Vincent classic, "Sea Cruise," is the most reverently rocking cut on the album.
Frey's quest for the boozy muse of rhythm 'n' blues is well rewarded on his own compositions, too. On the vaguely gospelish "I Found Somebody," he handsomely evokes '60s soul, and on "Partytown," a theme song if ever he wrote one, Frey rocks out raucously like a latter-day Bill Haley. Even the Jack Tempchin/Bill Bodine ballad "I Volunteer" is delivered with a sweetly soulful tip of the hat to Wilson Pickett and Bobby Womack.
To his everlasting credit, Frey never attempts to get profound, but sticks to the subjects he knows best: mainly perfidy and partying, not necessarily in that order. He wisely eschews an attempt at sincerity on "I've Been Born Again," transforming the song from a heartfelt romantic recommitment to a wry, wicked alibi for bad behavior. Similarly, on "All Those Lies," his smooth tenor caresses and strokes the despair and self-pity of the cheater who has been caught without betraying any remorse for the deed itself. In all, "No Fun Aloud" is a stubborn assertion of Frey's upbeat, unrepentant urges, as best exemplified by the closing cut "Don't Give Up," a rousing full-steam rocker bound to defuse the critical torpedoes.
Don Henley's "I Can't Stand Still" (Asylum E1-60048), though more varied thematically than musically, isn't quite as lighthearted or forgiving, but it is twice as interesting melodically. There's a bitter edge to the Jackson Browne-like "Nobody's Business," which sounds as if it might have been at home on the Eagles' last album, "The Long Run." Penned by Henley, Bob Seger and J. D. Souther, the triumverate that gave us "Heartache Tonight," it rolls along with the streamlined momentum given a hard-edged, unfocused bitterness. "Them and Us," a distinctly Warren Zevon-influenced rocker (Zevon sings harmony here), chides the current glibness toward impending holocaust with an irascibility uncharacteristic of the smooth-crooning Henley. But "Dirty Laundry" is a glaring condemnation of the media:
"We got the bubble-headed bleach-blond who comes on at five
She can tell you 'bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye."
Yet if Joe Walsh took over the Eagles' primary guitar duties with "Hotel California," Henley's was surely the voice of the Eagles, and those who have missed his hoarse-yet-silky crooning since its demise will find much cause for celebration here. The title track, which isn't a predictable party paean but (surprise!) a treatise on romantic jealousy, finds Henley's vocals as gilt-edged as ever, but suffused with an edge of guilt as well. Guitarist-coproducer Danny Kortchmar's "You Better Hang Up" is sure-fire hit material, combining the rhythmic and lyrical mannerisms of Browne and Zevon with Henley's superior vocal abilities.
There's not much surprising about "I Can't Stand Still" unless you count the light reggae spin of "The Unclouded Day," given extra spice by the unassailable percussion instincts of Ras Baboo. Cynics searching for the old Eagle chauvinism will undoubtedly dig it up on the ballad "Lilah" ("A Man Needs a Home, and a Child, and a Wife/To Always Be There -- Always"). But like Frey, Henley has provided as honest, confident and consistent a body of songs as anyone could have expected. This pair may not prove to be particularly controversial as solo artists, but they are nothing if not true to their school.