Hotel California showcases both the best and worst tendencies of Los Angeles-situated rock, but more strikingly its lyrics present a convincing and unflattering portrait of the milieu itself. Don Henley, handling five of the eight vocal tracks, expresses well the weary disgust of a victim (or observer) of the region’s luxurious excess.
Yet the record’s firm musical bases cannot be overlooked. Bernie Leadon departed and Joe Walsh arrived; the Eagles have abandoned most of their bluegrass and country & western claims in favor of a more overt rock stance. Walsh’s exact effect isn’t always obvious, but this record does have subtleties and edges that have sometimes eluded the group. The title cut, for example, incorporates a pinch of reggae so smoothly that it’s more felt than heard. “Life in the Fast Lane,” propelled by Walsh’s guitar and Glenn Frey’s clavinet, rocks like it really means it; “Victim of Love” works similarly, though at a slower tempo. Henley is superb on all three.
The frequent orchestration, however, doesn’t always fit. “Pretty Maids All in a Row” employs glistening, high-pitched string synthesizer to good effect, adding a reserved tension to the slowly paced arrangement; but the approach fails on “Wasted Time,” an over arranged wash embodying the worst of rock-cum-Hollywood sensibilities. What does work is the elegant fullness of “The Last Resort,” whose concluding words best sum up Hotel California: “You call some place Paradise … kiss it goodbye.”