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Joe Walsh – Songs for a Dying Planet (1992)

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So here you are in 1992.  You’re a fan, mild, moderate, or extreme, of Joe Walsh (you know, maybe you recall that he played with your favourite band, The Eagles – making you a mild fan – or maybe you typed out, on a primitive portable typewriter with faded red ribbon, every single lyric to every single song on But Seriously, Folks, which you bought for $3.99 at Sam the Record Man in 1978 after saving up your measly allowance for weeks – hypothetically – making you an extreme fan).  You’re in a record store, and you see to your delight that Joe has made a new album.  But the title worries you.  Songs for a Dying Planet?  Omigod, as we did NOT say in those days – Joe’s gotten serious!

Was Joe Serious?

But then you buy the album (of course) and take it home to listen to it – and your fears are allayed by the funny and goofy first song (“Shut Up”), the witty and goofy second song (“Fairbanks Alaska”), the vulgar and goofy third song (“Coyote Love”) – well, hell, by ALL the songs on the album.  Well, not quite.  Joe does indeed get serious on this album, but not until the last two songs, the twelve-minute “Decades” and the two-minute title track, which ends the album.  Now you’re even more confused.  What’s Joe up to?

Well, Joe’s up to whateverthehell he wants to be up to – as usual and as always.  Remember, this is the man who snuck a song called “I Like Big Tits” onto a record, fooling the none-too-bright people at the record company by calling it “I.L.B.T.’s.”  The man who had a couple of the biggest hits of the seventies in “Rocky Mountain Way” and “Life’s Been Good.”  The man who joined The Eagles conveniently just in time to play (brilliantly) on perhaps the defining West Coast album of its decade, Hotel California.  The man who ran for president in 1980 and vice president in 1992 (look it up if you don’t believe me). So, heck, if Joe wants to make an album of goofy, fun tunes and cap it off (and name it after) a song predicting the imminent environmentally catastrophic end of the world, Joe can go ahead and do it. 

 

But does it work?

Kinda sorta.  Those first two songs are vintage Walsh, musically delightful and lyrically silly.  A couple others (“Certain Situations,” “I Know”) are really pretty good.  His unironic (I think) cover of Goffin and King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” is genuinely enjoyable.  The inevitable “weirdos” instrumental, “Theme from Baroque Weirdos,” while not on a par with my favourite of that mini-genre (1978’s “Theme from Boat Weirdos”), is pleasant.  The other shorter songs are okay or so-so.  And then we come to something new in Joe’s ouvre: “Decades,” a twelve-minute epic (if you don’t mind my using that word for a pop song) that essentially summarizes the history of the twentieth century, its angle being that it’s a strong, didactic anti-war diatribe.  And you know what?  It’s really good.  It has the faults that, if you’d never heard the song, you’d expect it to have just from my description – a bit over-earnest, a bit tendentious, a bit self-important – but oddly enough, Joe’s voice and tasteful guitar playing are perfectly suited for the kind of message song he clearly wanted this to be.  The song has all sorts of neat sections and variations and surprises (a choir? Yep!), and you end up being impressed.  I think we’re all the more impressed because this is Joe Walsh and not, oh, I don’t know, Jackson Browne or somebody (hey, maybe my old favourite Dan Fogelberg, who was no stranger to earnest, didactic songs – “Face the Fire,” anyone?).  Joe’s iconography and discography make this song unexpected and thus perhaps all the more powerful.

But then “Decades” shades into the very brief and gloomy “Song for a Dying Planet.”  And then you replay the album (because it’s a Joe Walsh album, and you have good taste, and thus you love Joe Walsh!) – and the first thing you hear is Joe (or his persona) ranting about how he can’t go anywhere without people demanding autographs and asking stupid questions – “They would not shut up!” – and you realize that the album’s a bit schizophrenic.  But then you probably decide that that’s okay.  Joe does whatever he wants, right?  And we are very fortunate that he’s still doing whatever he wants today: his first solo album in twenty years, Analog Man, is (I think) the best thing he’s done since But Seriously, Folks, and I’ve no doubt he has a lot of fun, goofy, witty, and maybe even serious music left to give us.

Please check out our review of Walsh's latest record, Analog Man, and his website http://www.joewalsh.com/.