If they gave a Grammy for the best interior gatefold cover, this one should be nominated. It is the best since For The Roses, but for hardly the same reason. There they are, the four Eagles and their outlaw compatriots Jackson Browne and John David Souther, tied up on the ground at the mercy of their lawmen roadies, producer Glyn Johns and a couple of deputized friends. The photo is an alleged reenactment of the capture of the Dalton gang in the late 19th century. After shooting this picture, the outside cover and the billboards for Sunset Boulevard, the group dusted themselves off and flew to London to record Desperado, the chronicle of the rise and fall of the Doolin-Dalton renegades.
The beautiful thing about it is that although it is a unified set of songs, it is not a rock opera, a concept album, or anything pretending to be much more than a set of good tunes that just happen to fit together. It wasn’t until halfway through recording the album that the Eagles and Glyn Johns realized they could string in order as an entity what they were puttting down, and as a result only one of the songs, the “Bitter Creek” written after that realization, seems strained.
From following the printed lyrics one can catch the continuity, but from just listening to the record one enjoys the tunes individually. Asylum milked the first Eagles album for three hit singles, and there are at least that many lying in wait on this one. “Out Of Control” is a hard rock number with instrumental overtones of the Who and lyrics just slightly more discernible than those of Slade.
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Don Henley’s rough voice is one of experience, and it helps make “Desperado” and “Saturday Night” memorable. The title track features Frey’s slow, moody piano intro and Jim Ed Norman’s cushioning strings that don’t dare seek prominence. “Saturday Night” looks back at the irrevocably lost past, the departed sweetheart, the never-to-be-regained innocence. It was written by the quartet, who wrote all the songs in varying combinations save for David Blue’s “Outlaw Man” and some passages by Browne, Souther and roadie Tommy Nixon.
The group hints privately that the Doolin-Dalton experiences are analogous to those of rock stars. Since none of us have been pop heroes, whatever similarities there are will be lost to all but the detective. The few lyrical attempts at articulating truisms are the only real weak spots on the LP anyway.
Nobody needs profundities when he can hear Bernie Leadon’s delightful banjo, mandolin, dobro and guitar work and the entire group trading off lead vocals and changing moods. Desperado won’t cure your hangover or revalue the dollar, but it will give you many good times. With their second consecutive job well done, the Eagles are on a winning streak.