Hotel California-40th Anniversary Edition
Rating: music – 5 out of 5 stars; deluxe package – 2 1/2 out of 5 stars
You can’t argue with success. And when it comes to popular American albums, Hotel California –with two #1 Billboard hit singles and 32 million (and counting) in worldwide sales — certainly qualifies. So it’s no surprise that this is the first Eagles album to receive the deluxe reissue treatment, just in time for Christmas shopping, circa 2017, more or less its 40th anniversary (it was first released October, 1976).
Hotel California arrived, seventeen months after One of These Nights, with a substantial personnel change: the substitution of Bernie Leaden who, as a former member of the Flying Burrito Brothers, had lent the Eagles authenticity and a connection to the country world. Filling that slot was hard rocker Joe Walsh (on guitar and keyboards), initially an unusual choice, but one that history has shown to be wise, especially for the tougher, more arena rock oriented sound the band was aiming for.
Little more needs to be written about the music, although it’s worth noting that for all of its lyrical exploration of excess in the Golden State, neither of the Eagles’ primary songwriters Don Henley or Glenn Frey, was born or raised in California. Regardless, with songs such as the thrill ride slide guitar rocking of “Life in the Fast Lane,” the bittersweet, string enhanced, cinematic ballads “Wasted Time” and double entendre titled closer “The Last Resort,” along with the incisive, reggae/Spanish-styled title track, the songwriting team along with help from others in their orbit such as J.D. Souther, nailed the dark underbelly of fleeting success with memorable melodies and committed performances. Even Randy Meisner’s yearning “Try and Love Again” and Walsh’s poignant “Pretty Maids All In a Row,” both composed without either Frey or Henley, slot nicely into the general concept. Producer Bill Szymczyk’s input isn’t often credited, but he effectively captured the organic nature of the music while providing the scope and heft that shifted the Eagles from a popular roots rock act to a worldwide household name.
Assuming everyone who wants the original set already owns it since its release four decades ago, this reissue needs to up the ante. It boasts remastered sound both in stereo and 5.1 (the surround mix is apparently unchanged from its initial 2001 appearance), ten live tunes culled from three October 1976 dates oddly before the record was released (only including two of its selections), and some extraneous swag with rare pictures, poster and a replica tour book. That’s in hopes of justifying the wallet wincing $99.98 list price (slimmer single and double packages are also available for the budget conscious). The most frustrating aspect of the expanded edition is the abbreviated 50 minute live set since there is audio of the same tour floating around with at least an hour of additional music. Fans hoping to hear demos or early versions of the songs, a natural inclusion for a pricy edition of this type, will also come away empty handed.
That makes this classy 40th anniversary reissue with its hefty 11×11 box an adequate gift, likely for the band’s ageing fan base, but an unsatisfying—and expensive– missed opportunity to dig deeper into Hotel California’s musical origins.