When Hotel California’s mellifluous opening title track first aired in December 1976 (strictly speaking this year is its 41st anniversary), carried into the California desert air by Don Felder’s distinctive guitar licks – “Mexican Reggae” they’d called it – the Eagles were entering a habitual state of flux. With Bernie Leadon’s authentic country presence now replaced by fellow party animal Joe Walsh, and Randy Meisner sidelined, they were arguably the Don Henley and Glenn Frey band. Hugely successful thanks to Their Greatest Hits, they saw no reason not to believe their own legend and created a quasi-conceptual album, contrasting art versus commerce in the American bicentennial.
At least that’s become lore, although it doesn’t stack up; nor does the notion that they suddenly ditched soft country rock. Previous album On The Border was a tougher beast, Desperado, their best, was a more convincing Western concept. Hotel California is great in parts: the title track is immediately absorbing, New Kid In Town has bruised charm, the Eagles’ notorious extracurricular activities informed Life In The Fast Lane. Following that atmospheric trio, the album enters the realms of the pleasantly banal. Wasted Time, underscored by Jim Ed Norman’s romantic strings arrangement, doesn’t merit the instrumental reprise that ushers in side two. The self-consciously rocked up Victim Of Love, co-written with singer songwriter JD Souther, hasn’t aged well. The Joe Walsh/Joe Vitale ballad Pretty Maids All In A Row is sweet enough even if it sounds like something left over from Walsh’s The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get. Meisner’s slushy Try And Love Again is best ignored altogether. Henley’s nihilistic The Last Resort is a jaundiced appraisal of American excess and cultural poverty. Pretty ironic, all things considered, but Henley is adept at this type of mournful pontificating.
This 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition is completed by 10 live recordings from a three-night stint in October 1976 that unveiled the hypnotic Mariachi-inspired title epic and New Kid In Town, plus cracking versions of James Dean, Already Gone and the irresistible Take It Easy, all played with precision-tooled elegance and emphasis on the sparkling harmonies at which the Eagles excelled.
Those with deeper pockets (£85 deep) might prefer the three-disc Super-Deluxe Blu-ray audio version, which includes a 44-page hardcover book, a 24-page replica tour book and three posters, one being a Pete Frame Family Tree.