LOS ANGELES — On his first solo album in 11 years, Inside Job, Don Henley hasn’t stopped exploring the end of the innocence.
The Eagles singer/drummer’s skeptical views of the world around him, though, are tempered by celebrations of personal happiness.
“I think every day, every week, every month is filled with both joy and sadness for people,” Henley, 52, said early this month. “The album is simply a reflection of real life.
“Since I consider myself to be a fairly regular guy, with a regular life and regular family outside of show business, I think people can relate to it,” he continued. “I have the same feelings and emotions and concerns that other people have.”
The album debuted at #7 this week on the Billboard 200 albums chart.
As the follow-up to 1989’s The End of the Innocence, Inside Job is in some ways a chronicle of the past decade, said Henley, who wrote and produced the LP with former Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers drummer Stan Lynch. Yet the album explores what he said are standard themes in his music — home, love, commitment, responsibility and community.
In between songs that voice concerns ranging from the environment to the greed of corporate America, Henley pays tribute to two of the greatest changes in his life in the past several years — marrying his longtime girlfriend and becoming a father. Family was one of several interests that consumed Henley’s time in the ’90s, in addition to his successful environmental organization, the Walden Woods Project, a reunion tour with the Eagles, a move back to Texas and the construction of his own studio.
On the single, “Taking You Home” (RealAudio excerpt), inspired by his wife, Sharon Summerall, and the birth of his children, Henley sings, “I had a good life/ Before you came/ I had my friends and my freedom/ I had my name/ Still there was sorrow and emptiness/ ’Til you made me glad/ Oh, in this love I found strength I never knew I had.”
“For My Wedding” bids farewell to the freewheeling old days, while “Everything Is Different Now” (RealAudio excerpt) reflects on the results of that goodbye with the tongue-in-cheek line, “I hate to tell you this, but I’m very, very happy.”
“Those of us in the music industry, in the singer/songwriter community, we often live what might be called a protracted adolescence,” Henley said. “[We] take a long time to grow up. There are still people in the business that are older than me [laughs] that are still not growing up. And that’s OK. I always want to keep a little bit of the boy in me, you know. I don’t want to lose that. But at some point you have to leave the party.”
Henley discussed the album while sitting in a bungalow at Culver Studios, where he and his band were rehearsing for their tour. Clad in a blue shirt, black T-shirt and black pants, the singer appeared serious and contemplative as he spoke. He mostly kept his eyes cast down at the tape recorder in front of him, looking up when finished with a thought and ready to receive a new question.
The hard part of rehearsing for the tour, Henley said, was being away from his family in Texas. The singer, whose Los Angeles home was destroyed by the Northridge earthquake in 1994, relocated to his home state that spring.
Inside Job’s reflections on marriage and fatherhood may provide Henley a new connection to many of his longtime fans, said rock radio-programmer Doug Donoho, who has played several cuts from the album at his Bend, Ore., station KLRR-FM.
“Hey, they’re a lot of us who can relate,” he said. “It took him a while, he finally settled down, he’s found happiness and still manages to get his word out about issues that matter to him. A lot of people are there for him now; they’ve waited 11 years.”
The Down Side
Henley weighs in his critical side on several songs, delivering what he calls his “valentine to corporate America” with “Workin’ It” and expressing his contempt for selfish behavior on “Nobody Else in the World but You” — the album’s funky opening track featuring Motown great Stevie Wonder on keyboards and background vocals. “Goodbye to a River” reflects on environmental destruction.
“I come out of the ’60s generation where we had a social conscience and we were concerned about the state of the world and the state of the country,” Henley said. “We had the civil-rights movement, we had the Vietnam War, we had the environmental movement. And people seem to think that everything’s OK now — the stock market is booming, everyone is getting rich, and everything is hunky-dory. But I don’t think so.”
Henley had his greatest solo success with The End of the Innocence, which featured the Grammy-winning title track (RealAudio excerpt). The singer released his debut album, I Can’t Stand Still, in 1982, shortly after the Eagles disbanded. The country-rock band, one of the most influential groups in history, have the best-selling album of all time with 1975’s Eagles — Their Greatest Hits, 1971–1975, which has sold 26 million copies in the U.S.
Birds Of A Feather
The Eagles, who reunited for a stadium tour in 1994 and last played together in Los Angeles on the eve of the millennium, are mulling over the possibility of recording their first studio album since 1979’s The Long Run.
“I’m proud of the work we’ve done in the past and I want to remain proud of that work and I don’t want to do anything in the future to tarnish that legacy,” Henley said. “So if we can’t write and record some new material that lives up to certain standards, then I don’t think anybody is interested. And it remains to be seen whether we’ll be able to do that or not.”
The band began to work on new material last summer, but Henley’s mind was elsewhere. “I was in the midst of making this solo album, and I couldn’t do both things at the same time,” he said. “I tried, but I just didn’t have the capacity for it.”
Eagles guitarist Glenn Frey makes an appearance on Inside Job, in addition to Wonder, Randy Newman, guitarist Jimmie Vaughan, Heartbreakers’ guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench, among other guests.
Henley admits that when he first started work on the album in the fall of 1997, it crossed his mind that he may have been gone too long. But that thought was fleeting, he said.
“I have confidence in this record,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ll pick up any new fans or not, but I know that there are 78 million baby boomers out there who really don’t have very much to listen to right now. I think there’s a giant hole in music right now that hopefully I can partially fill.
“I can’t worry about time,” he continued. “I have to do it on my schedule in order to make it of a quality that is satisfactory to me. If time goes by, it goes by.”