America, Jackson Brown, Don Henley, Journey
Hotel California is one of those albums that spans several generations and can be enjoyed while pursuing many activities. From rocking out to “Life in the Fast Lane” driving up Pacific Coast Highway, or soaking up the mellow, melancholy message in “Last Resort,” it has a song for any of my moods.
Virtually any 70s film or TV series.
A classic rock album if ever there was one, Hotel California made the Eagles into world-beaters. Recorded over a period of eight grueling months in the studio, and produced by Bill Szymczyk, a noted perfectionist, the set features the Eagles debut of guitarist Joe Walsh and the final appearance of original bassist Randy Meisner. It harbors still-vital themes that address facets tied to decadence, the the loss innocence, and romantic disappointment.
The title track alone remains one of the most beloved and acclaimed songs in the rock canon, with Don Felder and Walsh’s interwined Spanish-styled guitar lines dovetailing with Don Henley’s vocals throughout the ambigious narrative. Yet the Grammy-winning set endures for reasons that go far beyond “Hotel California,” not the least of which include “New Kid in Town,” “Life in the Fast Lane,” and “Victim of Love.” Such staples that reflect the group’s deep rhythmic capabilities, stunning harmonizing, and delicate balance between sinister edginess and—to borrow from one of its other songs—peaceful, easy feeling.
The 2015 Warner/Asylum reissue was initially released together with the band’s other catalog titles as part of the numbered-edition Studio Albums 1972-1979 box set, now out of print. Bernie Grundman mastered the LP and box, reportedly from digital files. We compared the new Grundman pressing to a 100% analog 2009 reissue mastered by Kevin Gray and pressed at RTI—and to a 1970s pressing purchased new a few years ago, and which has seen very little play.
The current Warner reissue’s jacket features a matte texture and slightly blurrier graphics than the previous issues, but includes a beautiful color reprint of the original three-panel poster of the band when the members looked young and handsome (the original is black and white). The 2009 LP includes the poster as well, but possesses inferior black-and-white image quality.
Sonically, the current Grundman reissue tracks very closely with the tonality and attitude of the 1970s pressing. It’s a bit drier and loses some size, airiness, and musical nuance in an A-B comparison, but proves credible and engaging on its own. The 2009 analog pressing by Gray is a whole other animal. It matches the precise imaging of the current reissue, but sounds bigger, with more bass punch and more air around all the instruments and vocals than the other pressings. It definitely sounds a bit “Technicolor” compared to the 70s pressing with its overripe bass, but gives up no degree of musicality. I’ll take more fun and bigger-sounding bass over “accuracy” to the original every day of the week.
Drawing a definite conclusion here feels unfair to the current reissue—at once very good, easy to find, and relatively inexpensive. But 1970s all-analog pressings are plentiful and not crazy-expensive either, and such a route buys you a bit more sonically. The 2009 100% analog reissue sounds even better for those willing to pay a lot more ($50 and up) to track down a rarer pressing. Choose your commitment level.
Last chance to change your mind...