POP ALBUMS / Where Eagles daren't

Andy Gill on the Eagles' return from a 14-year vacation. Plus Black Cro wes, Carpenter and Coolio
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The Independent Online
- The Eagles

Hell Freezes Over

(Geffen GED 24725)

There was never really any doubt that the Eagles would one day re-form. The odds were simply too high, and too risk-free, for any sensible person to overlook, and men like their manager, Irving Azoff, and label boss David Geffen did not become the powerful business players they are by looking a gift bird like this in the beak. The figures alone tell their own staggering story: The Eagles are the only group ever to sell over 10 million copies each of two albums in the USA alone, Hotel California and the Greatest Hits collection shifting an astonishing 18 million units in one 18-month period in the late Seventies. That's the kind of baby-boomer zeitgeist-tapping most acts can only dream of, and even if only a tiny fraction of that potential audience buys into this career re-launch, all concerned will be chortling merrily in the deposit queue.

So should that audience bother? Barely: Hell Freezes Over is a classic Nineties reformation exercise, with only an EP's worth of new material among the greatest-hits live that comprise the bulk of the album - though at least they have the courage to stick the new stuff at the beginning rather than the end. As if to emphasise their continued feisty youthfulness, the opening track ``Get Over It'' is a muscular bout of freeway-cruisin' rock in the vein of their earlier ``James Dean'', with a timely dig or two at America's pop-psychological culture of complaint: ``Complain about the present and blame it on the past / I'd like to find your inner child and kick its little ass''.

It's downhill from there, though: the listless ballad ``Love Will Keep Us Alive'' could have been written to order for the group, while their dude-rock roots show to less than full effect in the steel-guitar whine of Glenn Frey's abject ``The Girl from Yesterday''. In their transition from peaceful, easy-feelin' California cowpokes to rather more sinister premonitors of Eighties' Yuppie oligarchism, however, it was always Don Henley who provided the artistic spine of the group. And the subtle undertow of the apocalyptic which ran through their later work (and his solo material) continues on his portentous ``Learn to Be Still''. This is another song attempting to peel back the veneer of moneyed insulation from his generation's supposedly paradisiacal life.

As for the concert material, it's a patchy selection performed impeccably, bookended by the sentimental western strains of ``Tequila Sunrise'' and ``Desperado'' but coming dangerously close to stalling completely in between with a succession of moodily self-important songs. The Mexican-flavoured version of ``Hotel California'' gets the best reception, but the most magical moment comes immediately after their pompous set introduction - ``For the record, we never broke up, we just took a 14-year vacation'' - when the rousing cheers are followed by a perfectly belated shout of ``Right On!'' from some stoner at the back.

- The Black Crowes


(American 74321 24194 2)

Darker and deeper than they've been before, Amorica hoists the Black Crowes beyond the Stones and Faces comparisons, into a place where their white-boy blues takes on more of its own emotional shadings. Like many of the best bands, the Crowes' music derives its open-wound authenticity from a fairly constant round of bickering and backbiting, the late nights and sore heads transmuting into the ill-tempered yet oddly affectionate songs Chris Robinson croaks here.

While the songs are becoming more pained and personal, the musical settings are broadening to take in a variety of influences beyond those early Seventies bastions. On Amorica, the Crowes' raunch-rock is stretched by strains of country-blues (''Downtown Money Waster''), country (''Wiser Time'') and even salsa (the Latin-flavoured ``High Head Blues''), without losing an ounce of their raw blues power. Most winningly of all, the acoustic guitar and harmonium of ``Nonfiction'' bring a more calmly reflective, confessional aspect: for a moment or two, the anger recedes to reveal a surprisingly tender spirit. Analogue album of the year, in all probability.

- Mary Chapin Carpenter

Stones In The Road

(Columbia COL 477679 2)

A first-rate songwriter who works in the country field simply because it's the dominant female singer-songwriter outlet at the moment, Mary Chapin Carpenter would in another time have been considered alongside such as Joni Mitchell, with whom she shares a gift for deriving universal truths from particular experiences. She wields her lines with such precision that the frequent shivers of recognition experienced while listening to Stones in the Road are akin to hearing a bell being rung; as with the songs of Clint Black, these situations and responses seem so right, so unmuddied, that they cut to the very quick of our pretensions.

``House of Cards'' and the title-track, which Carpenter donated to Joan Baez for the Folk Queen's last (excellent) album, both deal in the passage of time, but in different ways: the former uses big, Springsteen chords, while ``Stones in the Road'' is calmly reflective, with more of an air of acceptance. Elsewhere, in ``John Doe No. 24'', she manages to tell the immensely poignant (true) tale of a blind and deaf teenager whom nobody admitted to knowing, giving his silence eloquent voice without a hint of condescension or exploitation. In an industry of tired traditions and conservative conventions, hers may be the newest, truest voice of all.

- Coolio

It Takes a Thief

(Tommy Boy TBCD 1083)

Coolio is the latest G-Funk rap star to hit the US charts, with a slinky, infectious application of Lakeside's ``Fantastic Voyage''. A one-time crack addict whose harrowing past is covered in some detail on the track ``N Da Closet'', Coolio has a slightly more responsible attitude than most rappers. Much of the success of It Takes a Thief, however, is down to Coolio's producer, Dobbs the Wino, whose way with wah-wah guitars and subterranean basslines suggests he could soon rival top rap producers Dr Dre and D J Muggs.

(Photograph omitted)