We all know the Joe Walsh from 1978’s “Life’s Been Good,” his biggest-ever solo hit. The guy with the mansion he’s never seen. The guy at parties sometimes until four, with gold records on the wall. Leave a message, right? Maybe he’ll call.
Lodged inside that No. 12 hit was plenty of humor, a series of keen observations, but also a chilling warning for those nose-deep in the coke-fueled hedonism of the era.
And that Joe Walsh, bless him, is all over Analog Man. Due June 5, 2012 from Fantasy Records, this is Walsh’s first solo album since 1992’s Songs for a Dying Planet — and, in that way, it’s like he never left: From the ass-kicking groove of the lead single, a deliriously funny gripe about muddling through the digital age, to “Band Played On” — which evolves from an undulating, Eastern polyrhythm into this up-shit-creek rumination on the broader issues surrounding our existence: “Everybody’s got their head up their asses!,” Walsh finally wails, exasperated.
Cleaned up and focused, Walsh deftly recalls his hell-raising days of youth, too — tearing into a series of nasty-ass riffs on tracks like “India” and “Funk No. 50,” the last a scalding update of a key moment from his pre-Eagles stint with the James Gang. (Walsh once described his time with that rowdy group thusly: “Somebody counts off, and when everything’s broken, we’re done.”) You’re reminded, all of a sudden, that Joe didn’t just play guitar with a chainsaw menace; he actually (actually!) carried a chainsaw around.
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Even the Eagles had times when they didn’t fly so high. Here are some notable stumbles, from “I Wish You Peace,” to “Frail Grasp of the Big Picture,” to (what the?) “Disco Strangler.”]
But there was always more to Walsh than that. After leaving the James Gang, he also put out a solo album called So What with this devastating song dedicated to his daughter Emma, not long after losing the two-year-old in a car accident. Look closer at the goggle-eyed cover image from that 1974 project. It comes off at first as another goofball move, but Walsh’s eyes tell a different story.
Moments later, it seemed, he had all but disappeared into the biggest band in the world. The dark ruminations of “Pretty Maids in a Row” weren’t far off on the horizon. He’d manage the deftly nuanced 1978 solo effort But Seriously, Folks …, featuring Don Felder, Glenn Frey, Don Henley and Don Felder, before falling end over end into substance abuse. Looking back, it was a better follow up to Hotel California than their tepid The Long Run — which couldn’t even be saved by swiping Walsh’s solo track “In the City.”
Analog Man doesn’t rise to the level of But Seriously, Folks. Still, it has those kind of aspirations — and that’s saying a lot, at this late date. Over the course of these 10 new songs, Walsh also faces down the excesses of his youth when, as a stringy-haired former Kent State student who literally (literally!) studied music theory, electronics and welding, he almost drowned in an ocean of liquor. (“I like to say,” Walsh would quip, “I only got drunk once — for 30 years.”) “Lucky That Way” and “One Day at a Time” are the beat-to-hell reflections of the “Life Is Good” guy, now sobered up and settled down. “Family,” as you might expect, celebrates the small, good things that replace the nightlife. Then, just when you think he’s turned into the very cliche of a kitchen-pass house husband, Walsh slips in a winking play for a girl in the lilting “Hi-Roller Baby,” a track with enough yard-dog charm that it’s nearly the equal of the Eagles’ mythical come on from that legendary corner in Winslow, Arizona.
Now, there are times when Analog Man sounds very much like the Jeff Lynne production that it is — the thwacking Wilbury beat on “Wrecking Ball,” the outsized sonic template of “Spanish Dancer” — but, more often than not, Joe is allowed to be Joe … with all of the contradictions. Full of raw emotion, frank admissions, fun pop asides and memorable guitar gumption, Analog Man illustrates all over again just how complicated this guy always was.
Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on the Eagles and Jeff Lynne. Click through the titles for complete reviews …
FRANK OCEAN ON POSSIBLE LAWSUIT BY EAGLES’ DON HENLEY: AIN’T THIS GUY RICH AS FUCK?: In the wake of a rumored threat from Don Henley to sue over sampling the Eagles’ “Hotel California,” R&B singer Frank Ocean took to the Internet to plead his case: “Shit’s weird. Ain’t this guy rich as fuck? Why sue the new guy?” The Eagles have accused the Odd Future rapper of lifting “the whole master track” for Ocean’s new tune “American Wedding” from their original hit 1976 song. “This is not creative … it’s illegal,” an Eagles spokesman said in a statement. “American Wedding” was included on a free mixtape called Nostalgia. Ocean said that because he never sold the track, it could be seen as a way of paying tribute to the band: “I didn’t make a dime off that song,” Ocean said. “I released it for free. If anything I’m paying homage.”
GUILTY PLEASURES: JEFF LYNNE AND THE ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA: It’s true, as Randy Newman once impishly sang, they were six fine English boys who knew each other in Birmingham. After that, things got tricky for the Electric Light Orchestra. Despite an impressive string of 1970s hits, they became an easy target. People knocked the strings. The Beatlemania. Jeff Lynne’s spaceman fro. We won’t even get into ELO Part II. Newman, in this dead-on parody of their orchestral bombast called “The Story of a Rock and Roll Band” from 1979’s Born Again, winked his way through a few of the group’s more memorable earworms: “I love their ‘Mr. Blue Sky.’ Almost my favorite is ‘Turn to Stone,'” Newman adds, “and how ’bout ‘Telephone Line?’ I love that ELO.” Once we stopped laughing, though, there was something to admit. Thing is, we do too. No, really!
GIMME FIVE: SONGS WHERE THE EAGLES, WELL, SUCKED: The Eagles have been rightly praised for their canny combining of Glenn Frey’s city-slicker R&B with Don Henley’s country-fried rockabilly. Fans responded by sending every one of their albums to platinum status, including the 16-times smash Hotel California in 1976 and its seven-times platinum follow ups The Long Run and Long Road Out of Eden, from 1979 and 2007 respectively. That said, some of their work simply can’t be received with the best of our love. Over time, the Eagles seemed to settle into imitating their past successes, even as they slowly erased much of their rootsier early sound — not to mention Bernie Leadon. Then there was Henley’s growing voice in the band, if only because he’s always had a tendency toward pedantic, blissfully unaware fingerpointing. Which compelled us to start a list of the five worst offenders.