On The Border
I have a complicated love/hate relationship with the Eagles – they were one of my favourite bands in my early teens when I discovered rock music after a sheltered childhood. But as my musical horizons have broadened, I largely see them now as a second tier band who achieved first tier fame; they had the sales, the mega-tours, they dealt in major themes like the trappings of fame, and they had a string of singles that have kept them on the radio, but they didn’t have the strong album catalogue of a truly great band. There’s plenty to like about the Eagles – most of the band are strong musicians, with the notable exception of drummer Don Henley. Henley’s a strong singer and sometimes an incisive lyricist, and they have accomplished group harmonies.
Their third album, On The Border, is my favourite of their albums as it showcases them at an interesting point in their development. On their first two albums they added a commercial sheen to the country-rock sound that artists like Gram Parsons had developed, while by 1979’s The Long Run, they were burnt out and turned in a sterile and soulless rock album. With On The Border, they retain a country edge with their harmonies and Bernie Leadon’s array of traditional stringed instruments, but they’re exploring rock territory, and Don Felder, a late addition to the band, brings a rock edge to the two tracks that he plays on.
The encapsulation of what made their transitional period interesting is found in ‘Midnight Flyer’, a country song given a rock arrangement. While it’s not fully consistent, there are more interesting overlooked songs here than any other Eagles album. Bernie Leadon has a touching tribute to Parsons with ‘My Man’, bassist Randy Meisner has a straight up, concise pop song with ‘Is It True?’, and they transform Tom Waits’ ‘Ol’ 55′ with smooth harmonies.
It’s a little patchy, but On The Border is generally entertaining.
Other Eagles albums’ ratings:
Eagles (1972): 6/10
Desperado (1973): 5.5/10
One of These Nights (1975): 7.5/10, consistent, but too many slow songs. Features Bernie Leadon’s excellent instrumental ‘Journey of the Sorceror’.
Hotel California (1976): 7.5/10, again, quite accomplished, but too many slow songs. ‘New Kid in Town’ is one of their most enduring singles.
The Long Run (1979): 3.5/10, Timothy B. Schmitt’s R&B flavoured spotlight ‘I Can’t Tell You Why’ is one of the band’s best songs, but there’s a lot of filler here.