I’m in the middle of a lovely long weekend, filled with social engagements with the people I love. Today began with a game of Ultimate and then brunch, but now I’m home and I’ve just awakened from a restorative afternoon nap. Things don’t get much better.
Disc 1035 is…Building the Perfect Beast
Artist: Don Henley
Year of Release: 1984
What’s up with the Cover? Mock him if you must, but chances are you had a similar haircut, and owned a similar blazer.
How I Came To Know It: I knew this music growing up but I never much liked any of the hits I heard on the radio and stayed well away. Sheila felt differently – this one is hers.
How It Stacks Up: We have two Don Henley albums, this and “End of the Innocence” which I bought. Unsurprisingly, of the two I prefer “End of the Innocence.”
Ratings: 2 stars
“Building the Perfect Beast” is a bad combination of songs I don’t like that I’ve had to hear too many times. I try to be fair, but the combination inclines me toward hurtful words.
Mid-eighties pop means you’re going to get synthesizers, horn solos (usually saxophone) and insubstantial drums that sound like they’re being played inside a tin can. Asking mid-eighties pop to not be these things is unrealistic.
While these things aren’t my favourite sounds there are plenty of albums that did a better job of managing these maladies in 1984. Bruce Springsteen overcame it on “Born in the USA” and Prince released “Purple Rain” that year. Even albums well out of my wheelhouse like Howard Jones’ “Human’s Lib” managed to win me over.
Don Henley did not win me over. Mostly, he sounded like a schmaltzy old guy, trying to be soulful, and while he approaches his sound from a lot of different angles, few of them are good ones.
Having said all this, “Boys of Summer” finally appealed to me after many years. This song was horribly overplayed back in the eighties, and as a teenage metal head, I loathed it with a fathomless fury. With a bit of distance and perspective, I now see it is a pretty solid song, which captures the memory of a romantic summer fling (the best of flings) with sincerity and style. I don’t love it like a lot of people, but at least I can now admit it is a good song.
The rest of this album mostly annoyed me. The other hits range from the saccharine but inoffensive “Not Enough Love in the World” to “All She Wants to Do Is Dance” which remains to this day one of my most hated songs. From its drum-machine beats, to the synthesizer that sounds like someone forcing a fart, nothing about this song is pleasant. Every other line is “all she wants to do is dance” balanced against what I think is Henley’s attempt at political commentary. It is supposed to provide juxtaposition, but the only position it elicited from me was one where my hands were covering my ears.
Rounding out the singles we have “Down at the Sunset Grill,” a bloated six minute monster filled with random bells and a piano piece that sounded like it was being played by an angry drunk who’s commandeered the hotel lounge’s baby grand. There is also a never-ending solo of what I think is a trumpet. Turning to the liner notes, it turns out I was right to be confused, as it was played by something called a “synthesizer guitar (horn)”. It chills my blood that such a monstrosity ever existed.
As for the deep cuts, there isn’t much on offer here either. Henley loves to turn a phrase, but he tends to think they are cleverer than they actually are. “You Can’t Make Love” and “You’re Not Drinking Enough” are both songs filled with examples of these, where the lyrics feel stilted and the songs aren’t interesting enough to overcome it.
The one nice surprise was “A Month of Sundays,” which is a Springsteen-esque song about a man who worked building farm equipment, then became a farmer himself, only to find himself squeezed out by large corporations and tough economic times. The song is driven by a restrained piano piece (played ably by Heartbreaker Benmont Tench). While there is way too much atmospheric synth going on, Henley makes the most of it with heartfelt lyrics and an honest delivery.
Despite this late-album success, there wasn’t much else to recommend on “Building the Perfect Beast” and plenty of songs that downright annoyed me. I give this album two synthesizer farts, played on a ‘synthesizer guitar (horn)’.
Best tracks: The Boys of Summer, A Month of Sundays