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Much more than just another '80s record.,
This review is from: Building The Perfect Beast (Audio CD)
Songwriting is no trifle matter to Don Henley. And although in the early 1970s the magic duo of Henley/Frey churned out hits with enough speed to allow for the production of four albums in four years, followed by an all-time best-selling Greatest Hits (Vol. 1) album even before the release of the Eagles' classic "Hotel California," he started to take things considerably slower in his post-Eagles solo career. The two years he took to follow up 1982's "I Can't Stand Still" with "Building the Perfect Beast" were actually the shortest time between any two of his solo albums; in part due to the fact that, as Henley explained, his collaboration with Danny "Kootch" Kortchmar worked along lines different from those he had established with Glenn Frey in the Eagles. These were no longer two guys sitting down together in a room with a guitar and a drum kit: For Don Henley's second solo release, bowing to the musical developments of the 1980s, they relied heavily on synthesized sounds (Henley's tour promoting the album even featured an elaborate light show, something that would have been inconceivable for any of the Eagles' tours). And while making most of the songs on the album easily "listenable" and producing several top-selling singles ("All She Wants to Do Is Dance," "Sunset Grill," "Boys of Summer" and "Not Enough Love in the World"), that choice of instrumentation also seemed to render "Building the Perfect Beast" the most easily dateable of all of Henley's solo releases.
Lyrically, however, Henley had lost nothing of his bite; the album's very name is indicative of that fact. "We're the ones who can kill the things we don't eat," he warned in the title track, musically the edgiest song on the album (synthesizers or not) - "we have met the enemy, and he is us ... the secrets of eternity; we've found the lock and turned the key ... all the way to Malibu from the Land of the Talking Drum, just look how far we've come." "Sunset Grill" and "A Month of Sundays" lament the death of small mom-and-pop farms and businesses and their takeover by large corporations; a criticism of Reaganomics Henley would take up even more forcefully in 1989's "The End of the Innocence." (Ironically, his beloved Sunset Grill in L.A. later went down that very same path, too - "Don't go there," he therefore quipped during the closing appearance of his 2000-2001 "Inside Job" tour, "it ain't there anymore. Even though it still has the same name. Even though the guy has my name on the menu. Don't go there!") "All She Wants to Do Is Dance" has a similar theme, focusing on corporate and political greed in general. "The Boys of Summer," musically based on a guitar riff supplied by Heartbreaker Mike Campbell, is a warning not to look back and romanticize the past but rather, to look toward the future - just keep your eyes open whatever you do, though, because if you're Driving With Your Eyes Closed "you're gonna hit somethin' ... but that's the way it goes."
As on all of his solo releases, Henley was able to secure the collaboration of a virtual all-star cast of musicians, from Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham and Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench to Randy Newman, Patty Smyth, Belinda Carlisle, Richard and Waddy Wachtel, Toto's Steve Porcaro and David Paich, "inofficial Eagle" J.D. Souther, and many, many more. And despite the seeming bow to the 1980s' musical tastes in the instrumentation of many of the album's tracks, their lasting quality becomes apparent like on no other occasion when Henley performs them live, as he did on his recently-concluded tour. Stripped of some of their fancy effects, they stand up even more visibly to the class of his other work, both with the Eagles and solo - and you just have to have heard that stunning, several minutes' long drum/percussion intro (not even performed by Henley himself) to "All She Wants to Do Is Dance," the closing song of the tour’s regular program.
"Building the Perfect Beast" cemented Don Henley's standing as a solo artist, and it paved the way for his biggest release to date, "End of the Innocence." As he had done with his bandmates a decade earlier, Henley again proved that he was able to create something lasting, in whatever format he chose. Maturity added more focus to his work (lyrically if nowhere else); and vocally, many of the tracks on this album are among the most demanding he has ever written. Unlike the output of the era's countless hair bands, disco kings and queens and punk bands, all of Don Henley's first three solo releases still have a large enough audience to warrant their inclusion in the catalogue of every major record store - including the seemingly so 1980s-sounding "Building the Perfect Beast."