No peaceful, easy feeling for ex-Eagles' singer

Review: After 11 years without a new release, `Inside Job' finds Don Henley back -- and cranky.

May 23, 2000|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Back in the '70s, when he was in the Eagles, Don Henley was the voice of dashed hopes and disillusionment. In such songs as "Desperado" and "Hotel California," his heartbreak tenor soared above the massed guitars like one of Noah's doves, seeking solid ground amid the deluge.

Later, in his Reagan-era solo albums, Henley's search soured into a cynical examination of American vanity and self-delusion. He carped about the press rummaging through his "Dirty Laundry," complained that there was "Not Enough Love in the World," lamented "The End of the Innocence," and darkly proclaimed, "I Will Not Go Quietly."

But go he did. Although he released a greatest hits package and took part in the Eagles reunion, Henley pretty much kept quiet through the '90s. His last album of new material was 1989's "The End of the Innocence," and while he had kept his name in the public eye through such projects as the Walden Woods conservation campaign, music fans had cause to wonder whatever became of Henley.

The answer, as expressed in his new solo album, "Inside Job" (Warner Bros. 47083, arriving in stores today), is simple: He became a crank.

No sooner does the album start than Henley is off and griping. "Nobody Else In the World But You" is a rant against self-centeredness, in which our hero rails against those egomaniacal louts who act as if their whims and wishes were more important than anything (or anyone) else in the world.

It's a reasonable complaint on the face of it, and Henley's call for consideration will likely resonate with anybody who has ever been offended by the obliviousness of others. But instead of turning that into constructive criticism, Henley just carps, counting the ways losers tick him off. "The way you dance/The way you walk/The way you drive " It's like sitting next to your uncle as he goes on about what's wrong with kids these days.

Nor is Henley above generational jeremiads. Midway through "Damn It, Rose," he launches into a diatribe against those snotty young punks on MTV. It isn't just that Henley sounds both old and clueless as he kvetches about a would-be rebel who "wears the clothes of a dissenter/But there's a logo on his back"; what ultimately makes this screed so embarrassing is that it arrives in the middle of a song lamenting a woman's suicide.

That Henley would have it in for the younger generation shouldn't come as too great a surprise, considering the difficulty he has in sounding hip. "Nobody Else in the World But You" tries to seem hip and funky, with its hip-hop drum loop and Stevie Wonder synth licks, but judging from the way the bassline cops from "Hollywood Swinging," it appears to have been a while since Henley last heard funk.

"Miss Ghost" tries to get a bit of a groove going beneath its "Hotel California"-ish melody, but somehow Henley and company can't quite sustain momentum. At least when the rhythm work turns irritatingly robotic in "The Genie," Henley can claim sarcasm as an excuse, since the song is a screed against technology.

Music, unfortunately, doesn't seem to be Henley's chief concern. No, he has bigger fish to fry, and tries to find room to skewer all his enemies, castigating "captains of industry" in "Goodbye to a River," berating American consumers for their foolish greed in "Workin' It," and fulminating against shadowy powers-that-be in the album's title tune. He even takes a swipe against his fellow cranks in "They're Not Here, They're Not Coming," which crabbily kisses off anyone who thinks The Truth (or alien life) Is Out There.

Sad thing is, Henley doesn't even seem to be enjoying his opportunity to vent spleen. Not only is there precious little wit in his tirades, neither is there much hope or joy. Most of the time, he just comes off as rock's grumpy old man, angrily muttering "Bring back the Duke of Earl" (an actual line from "They're Not Here, They're Not Coming," by the way).

A pity, that, because the few songs that don't find him raging are easily the album's best. The lullaby "Annabel" is tender and paternal enough to assure us that Henley hasn't given up hope, while the love song "Taking You Home" is as rich with warmth and affection as his rants are bloated with bile.

Hearing those songs, it's easy to assume the private parts of Henley's life are brighter than ever. Had he managed to carry over some of that positivity to the other songs, "Inside Job" might have been a job well done.

Don Henley

Inside Job Warner Bros. 47083

Sun score: *

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