The Eagles’ fourth album represents the apex of post-Byrds Southern California rock. Their music reflects the Hollywood ethos of glamorous, narcissistic ennui, exhibiting the contradiction between the city’s atmosphere of “laid-back” machismo and its desperate rootlessness of spirit. Even the Eagles’ more plaintive songs have a surface sweetness that belies the jaded pessimism of so many of their lyrics. This sweetness, combined with superb arrangements, brilliant playing and the seamless vocal harmonies of Glenn Frey, Don Henley and Randy Meisner, accounts for the band’s popularity, for it evokes everything gratifying that people would like to fantasize about L.A.
Unlike their previous three albums, One of These Nights is not self-consciously structured around contemporary myths. Though I found the semioperatic Desperado, which likened rock stars to outlaws, an intelligent concept, it also struck me as glibly self-satisfied. Likewise, On the Border’s tributes to James Dean and Gram Parsons, while they conveyed vigor and pathos, showed no strong feeling of either violence or grief. A major reason I like One of These Nights more than its forerunners is its relative lack of conceptual pretension. The best songs portray L.A. culture fairly straightforwardly, using occult eroticism (“One of These Nights,” “Too Many Hands” and “Visions”) and sexual duplicity and malaise (“Hollywood Waltz,” “Lyin’ Eyes,” “After the Thrill Is Gone”) as metaphors for the city’s transient, hedonistic ambience.
The excellent title cut introduces a new element into the Eagles’ music — R&B falsetto singing by Randy Meisner and Don Henley. An exciting statement of obsessive sexual pursuit, the cut shows the Eagles’ finest attributes: aggressive but precise vocal harmonizing and richly textured instrumentation linked by Don Felder’s muscular guitar fills. “Hollywood Waltz” is an appealing ballad that likens L.A. to an aging, promiscuous woman. “Lyin’ Eyes” uses a woman’s restless adultery to symbolize the city’s gross materialism. “Take It to the Limit,” an orchestrated ballad whose lead vocal by Meisner is almost stately in its execution, contains some pithy phrasemaking: “You can spend all your time makin’ money/You can spend all your love makin’ time.” The song also answers the fear of growing old with apprehensive defiance: “Take it to the limit one more time.” A similar anxiety is expressed more directly in the album’s best ballad, “After the Thrill Is Gone”: “What can you do when your dreams come true, and it’s not quite like you’d planned?” Here, there is no answer but to continue doing “The same old dances in the same old shoes/You don’t care about winning but you don’t want to lose.”
One of These Nights is far from flawless. Bernie Leadon’s “Journey of the Sorcerers,” a bombastic instrumental, should have been omitted and his closing ballad. “I Wish You Peace” (cowritten with Patti Davis), comes as a trite after-thought, poorly sung. Despite its many strengths, One of These Nights is not a great album. True, the Eagles’ ensemble playing is unprecedentedly excellent. But they lack an outstanding singer. While many of their tunes are pretty, none are eloquent. And for all their worldly perceptiveness, the Eagles’ lyrics never transcend Hollywood slickness. Their hard rock has always seemed a bit forced, constructed more from commercial considerations than from any urgent impulse to boogie. And when the Eagles attempt to communicate wild sexuality, they sound only boyishly enthused. These limitations, however, seem built-in to the latter-day concept of Southern California rock, of which the Eagles remain the unrivaled exponents.