[15 January 2009]
One of the things I’ve learned from Morrissey’s increasingly flamboyant solo career is that to be a legitimate glam rocker you don’t have to put on a bunch of make-up or even (gasp) wear leather pants. With that said, bandanas, leopard-print leotards and feathery hairdos have always helped to underscore the genre’s overriding obsession with the ups and downs of materialism. As for the dudes in Eagles of Death Metal, they definitely seem to appreciate either approach, proving capable at least now and then of managing their own flamboyance with the same kind of muscularity that makes mid-1970s, hamburger-fed Marc Bolan so weird and interesting.
Still, It’d be wrong to go and blow things out of proportion. First and foremost: this is not the golden age of glam. True, while there’s definitely a gutsiness here that’s more New York Dolls than Motley Crüe, with Heart On Eagles of Death Metal have merely assembled twelve reasonably well-written songs about a number of well-worn rock clichés. As a whole, the second album from Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme (drums, vocals) and best bud Jesse Hughes (vocals, guitar) basically amounts to a semi-worthwhile stab at codifying the world-weary gripes of a hollow, semi-fictional rock ‘n’ roller living in Los Angeles.
Song titles like “How Can a Man with So Many Friends Feel So Alone” and “Now I’m a Fool” pretty much lay bare this motif. The songs that aren’t about sex or Rock ‘n’ Roll are about all about betrayal. Crucially, though, by the end of album closer “I’m Your Torpedo”, it’s quite clear that far from sounding genuinely pissed off about life on the Strip this set of tunes instead gamely subscribes to the gluttony of the genre’s trademark irony. On the cleverly titled “Heart On”, for instance, a sarcastic Hughes questions, “What good’s a heart if it ain’t on your sleeve?”
Not much if you’re all about earthy rockers like “(I Used to Couldn’t Dance) Tight Pants”, “Secret Plans”, and “Solo Flights”. Unsurprisingly, the latter is a song about masturbation, the music fittingly centered on a tricky descending bass figure that seems an intensive right arm workout in and of itself. The big riffs of “Tight Pants” might’ve scored a hit if not for the lack of a singable tune. With frustrating uniformity, most of the other songs here are also just a lot of tawdry glitz and leather flexing until a shout refrain wakes you up again.
The exception to the rule is lead single “Wannabe in LA”, a compact reminiscence of T.Rexstacy complete with a watertight rhythm section and falsetto harmonies. Over a super funky bass line comes another of Hughes’ woebegone confessions: “I came to LA to make Rock ‘n’ Roll / Along the way I had to sell my soul.” It’s a stale sentiment, sure, but coupled between an undeniable backbeat and some lean guitar work it comes off convincingly enough. Throw in a well-timed tribal breakdown and – hey presto – you’ve got a shoo-in for Guitar Hero 4 .
So it goes that, aside from being completely disposable, Heart On isn’t quite a bad album. It’s just that the recklessness of Eagles of Death Metal’s brand of party music is now too much of a throwback to past decades. While the keener glam of our beloved Steven Patrick Morrissey has always acknowledged some kind of imminent threat, theirs is simply too irresponsible for our times. The fact of the matter is that these days the people get down to the sound of gunshots, ruminations on insanity or – at their most lighthearted – reflections on casual bi-curiosity. If anyone wants to hear a song about self-gratification, the more iconic tributes of folks like Billy Idol or Cyndi Lauper are more likely to fulfill that urge. After all, those walking CFC clouds were singing from eras in which a certain amount of flagrant irresponsibility was par for the course. On the other hand – and to Eagles of Death Metal’s credit – I think most people will always have a soft spot for the idea of rock for rock’s sake.