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On The Border

Asylum 1004
Released: March 1974
Chart Peak: #17
Weeks Charted: 87
Certified Gold: 6/5/74

Don FelderBernie LeadonRandy MeisnerGlenn FreyDon HenleyMost of the ten songs here are in some way related to escape, or to the failures that necessitate it. But the Eagles' point of view toward their material varies so wildly that it's hard to believe even they take it seriously. "My Man," Bernie Leadon's gentle epitaph for a "very talented guy" (who seems to be Gram Parsons), is completely at odds with the jovial necrophilia of "James Dean," a strong and (I hope) slightly facetious rocker that hands it subject a rather abrupt kiss-off ("You were too fast to live, too young to die, bye-bye"). "Already Gone," which sounds like it's supposed to sound like "Take It Easy," is the most inconsistent number in the set, building a proud "victory song" out of successive cute digs at an abandoned girlfriend.

The Eagles' California ethos (softly articulated in the album's most affecting number, "The Best of My Love") conveys their spirit of camaraderie which is more admirable than it is musically effective. The vocal work is shared throughout, sometimes even within the same song, and not always to the group's advantage. But even though Glenn Frey's singing best personifies the group's overall spirit, Don Henley's raw, strained sound in more interesting and less anonymous. "Ol' '55," a Tom Waits number sung alternately by Frey and Henley, emphasizes their stylistic differences, but at the expense of a single, more personal approach. And while Bernie Leadon provides an interesting synthesis of Frey's and Henley's mannerisms on "My Man," Randy Meisner probably shouldn't be singing leads at all.

The band now includes three guitarists -- Don Felder, who only appears on part of the album, is listed as a "late arrival" on the historic credits (they document for the first time which Eagle does what). They all play well, but there are just too many intrusive guitar parts here, too many solos that smack of gratuitous heaviness. Many of the arrangements seem to lose touch with the material somewhere in mid-song.

The title cut defines a vaguely Desperado-like stance ("Don't you tell me 'bout your law and order"), but the Eagles aren't thinking like outlaws any more. They're thinking Top 40, a la their first album, and they do it better than ever. If Desperado hadn't shown a potential for bigger things, an album as competent and commercial as this one might not be disappointing.

On The Border is a tight and likable collection, with nine potential singles working in its favor and only one dud ("Midnight Flyer") to weigh it down. It's good enough to make up in high spirits what it lacks in purposefulness. And that might even be a fair trade if the Eagles would only decide they've already mastered this stuff, reign in their hit-making instincts and channel their energies into projects less easily within their grasp.

- Janet Maslin, Rolling Stone, 5-23-74.

Bonus Reviews!

Change is not necessarily growth. The Eagles have been fooling with the recipe; the border they're on is the one between what they've been doing and standard hard rock. Mighty twangs on the electric guitar and geat crunching hits on the piano and cymbals now appear where once the quieter jingle of acoustic guitars defined an elusive but pleasant style. Electric guitarist Don Felder has become a member of the group, and the boys have been writing and finding songs that rock a little harder and, like early Poco songs, have little substance.

I am able to restrain my enthusiasm for this turn of events. It isn't that the Eagles play hard rock badly, but that they don't play it significantly better -- or different from -- dozens of other groups. At their older, country-flavored sound, they're significantly better than any other cowboy rock band I've heard. That hasn't been abandoned -- "Midnight Flyer," the most satisfying cut, romps along in near-bluegrass trappings, and "Ol' '55" is another nice form the old sound can take -- but the normal Eagles way of doing things seems to be abruptly suspended when they tackle something like the title song, which is standard big-beat trivia. Felder plays well enough, and his slide work definitely is an asset to whatever form of the Eagles that survives, but who needs another evocation of the Jeff Beck Group these days?

- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 9/74.

Now under the wing of producer Bill Szymcyzk, and recently expanded with the arrival of guitarist Don Felder, Eagles have returned to the high-octane Western rock that earned gold status for their first LP. Expect fans who found Desperado almost too mellow to jump for this one. From the snarling twin guitars that open the set to the last track, the band moves from high gear to gentler moods without losing momentum. As always, the vocals are stunning and the material, including originals and inspired collaborations with Jackson Browne and J.D. Souther, is solid. Best cuts: "On the Border," "James Dean," "Ol' '55," "Already Gone."

- Billboard, 1974.

The critic in me has no doubt this is their best album, although he notes that the male-bonding songs (which articulate an affirmative ethos) have more to say than the female-separation songs (which rationalize hostility into pity/contempt). And when the critic plays the record, the listener enjoys the Gram Parsons tribute "My Man," the MOR-oriented "Best of My Love," the vaguely anti-authoritarian "On the Border," the permanently star-struck "James Dean," and several others. But the listener is too turned off by what the band represents ever to put the thing on voluntarily. B+

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

A transitional Eagles album (and their commercial breakthrough), this contained songs like "Already Gone" and "James Dean" (co-written by Jackson Browne) that hark back to their earlier uptempto rock style, but also "Best of My Love" and Tom Waits' "Ol' 55," ballads that showed off their harmonies and won them a whole new audience. * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

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