Just because it took them 13 years to deliver a studio sequel to their 1994 live album Hell Freezes Over, don't say it took the Eagles a long time to cash in on their reunion. They started cashing in almost immediately, driving up ticket prices into the stratosphere as they played gigs on a semi-regular basis well into the new millennium. So, why did it take them so long to record a new studio album? It could be down to the band's notoriously testy relations -- Don Felder did leave and sue the band in the interim, settling out of court in 2007 -- it could be that they were running out some contractual clause somewhere, it could be that they were waiting for the money to be right, or the music to be right. It doesn't really matter: there was no pressing need for a new album. Fans were satisfied by the oldies, and the band kept raking in the dough, so they could take their time making a new album. And did they ever take their time -- the 13-year gap between Hell Freezes Over and Long Road Out of Eden, their first album since 1979's The Long Run, was nearly as long as that between their 1980 breakup and 1994 reunion. Far from indulging in a saturation campaign for this long-awaited record, the Eagles released the double-disc Long Road Out of Eden with surgical precision, indulging in few interviews and bypassing conventional retail outlets in favor of an exclusive release with Wal-Mart, which is not only the biggest retailer in America but also where a good chunk of the band's contemporary audience -- equal parts aging classic rockers and country listeners -- shops. (The album was also available on the group's official website, eaglesband.com via musictoday.com.)
It was a savvy move to release Long Road Out of Eden as a Wal-Mart exclusive, but the album is savvier still, crafted to evoke the spirit and feel of the Eagles' biggest hits. Nearly every one of their classic rock radio staples has a doppelgänger here, as the J.D. Souther-written "How Long" recalls "Take It Easy," the stiff funk of "Frail Grasp on the Big Picture" echoes back to the clenched riffs of "Life in the Fast Lane," and while perhaps these aren't exact replicas, there's no denying it's possible to hear echoes of everything from "Lyin' Eyes" and "Desperado" to "Life in the Fast Lane," and Timothy B. Schmit turns Paul Carrack's "I Don't Want to Hear Anymore" into a soft rock gem to stand alongside his own "I Can't Tell You Why." It's all calculated, all designed to hearken back to their past and keep the customer satisfied, but yet it often manages to avoid sounding crass, as the songs are usually strong and the sound is right, capturing the group's peaceful, easy harmonies and Joe Walsh's guitar growl in equal measure. The Eagles burrow so deeply into their classic sound that they sound utterly disconnected from modern times, no matter how hard Don Henley strives to say something, anything about the wretched state of the world on "Long Road Out of Eden," "Frail Grasp on the Big Picture," and "Business as Usual." These tunes are riddled with 21st century imagery, but sonically they play as companions to Henley's brooding end-of-the-'80s hit The End of the Innocence, both in their heavy-handed sobriety and deliberate pace and their big-budget production. That trio fits neatly into the second disc of Long Road Out of Eden, which generally feels stuck in the late '80s, as Walsh spends seven minutes grooving on "Last Good Time in Town" as if he were a Southwestern Jimmy Buffett with a worldbeat penchant, Glenn Frey sings Jack Tempchin and John Brannen's "Somebody" as if it were a sedated, cheerful "Smuggler's Blues," and the whole thing feels polished with outdated synthesizers.
None of this is necessarily bad, however, as it's all executed well and the doggedly out-of-fashion sonics only make the songs more reminiscent of the Eagles' older records, especially if their solo work from the '80s is part of the equation. If that second disc does seem a bit like the Eagles' lost album from the Reagan years, the first disc recalls their mellow country-rock records of the '70s -- that is, if Joe Walsh had been around to sing Frankie Miller's blues-rocker "Guilty of the Crime" to balance out Henley and Frey's "Busy Being Fabulous" and "What Do I Do with My Heart," a counterpoint that serves the band well. That first disc is the stronger of the two, but the two discs do fit together well, as they wind up touching upon all of the band's different eras, from the early days to their solo hits. It's designed to please those fans who have been happy to hear the same songs over and over again, whether it's on the radio or in those pricey concerts -- listeners who want new songs that feel old, but not stale. That's precisely what Long Road Out of Eden provides, as it's an album meticulously crafted to fit within the band's legacy without tarnishing it.