Friday, May 30, 2014

I Can't Stand Still: Maybe Cut Down On The Caffeine A Little?

While it's terrible that Don Henley couldn't stand still, at least unlike Lionel Richie, he could slow down. Even though it only peaked at #24, even though only one song from the album ever appears on Henley Greatest Hits CDs, and even though BMG probably sold about a third as many copies of it in the mail as they did Building the Perfect Beast and End of the Innocence, I really can't stand the short shrift that's been given to I Can't Stand Still. I like it more than The Long Run, at least; it's funnier, looser, and more cohesive, although sadly it doesn't credit nearly as many attorneys in the liner notes.

Henley cuts right to the chase on the opening title track, putting the big drums and crawling synthesizers right out front where no one could miss 'em. It's 1982, and the man's going all in. He rides that state-of-the-art production over a slow, urgent R&B groove until the sunscreen bottle's all emptied out. Side note: if Jimi Hendrix had lived long enough to play a solo on the Atari 2600, would it have sounded like the noise that appears at the 1:49 mark? It's also interesting how I still feel like, on a subconscious level, Glenn Frey is singing backing vocals. But ... but ... that's impossible!

The second track, "You Better Hang Up," is the best riff rocker Tom Petty or Aerosmith never made, and whoever played the cowbell didn't get enough credit.

But brace yourself, because then comes the Lecture Rock. No, seriously: in the music video for "Johnny Can't Read," Henley is literally giving a lecture in a high school classroom. Apparently he took it upon himself to write a zippy New Wave track about everyone's favorite subject: the slow decline of the American educational system. Over an arrangement that sounds like Springsteen giving a concert at the local Toys R Us, Henley eagerly celebrates the disgraceful illiteracy of the American high schooler. To paraphrase: We're all stupid! Who cares, we can blow shit up!
Football, baseball, basketball games
Drinkin' beer, kickin' ass and takin' down names
Well-a top down, get-a-round, shootin' the line
Summer is here and Johnny's feelin' fine

But Johnny can't read
Summer is over and he's gone to seed
You know that Johnny can't read
He never learned nothin' that he'll ever need

Well, Johnny can dance and Johnny can love
Johnny can push and Johnny can shove
Johnny can hang out, Johnny can talk tough
Johnny can get down and Johnny can throw up

Well is is Teacher's fault? Oh no
Is it Mommie's fault? Oh no
Is it society's fault? Oh no
Well is it Johnny's fault? Oh noooooo!

Couple year's later, Johnny's on the run
Johnny got confused and he bought himself a gun
Well, he went and did something that he shouldn't oughta done
F.B.I. on his tail, use a gun, go to jail

Well, recess is over
Recess is over!
Damn. And I was just about to plunk the fat kid in dodgeball too. Honestly, what jagged object could have possibly lodged its way up Henley's rear on that particular day? Did he go to the store and ask the teen behind the counter to name his favorite Faulkner novel, only to receive a blank stare in return? I mean, how the hell does Don Henley know whether America's youth is ill-educated or not? He just cruises around in his freakin' limo all day. Ease off the prune juice there, old geezer.

Still, there's something to be said for the senile rant, and the song concludes with some rare Henley free association, or possibly an attempt at rapping (?), which eventually culminates in the most unexpected impersonation of Fozzie Bear in pop music history.

And just as the Pretenders would do in a couple of years with "My City Was Gone," Henley decided to turn the Talking Heads' cover of "Take Me To The River" into a song about politics, in this case Cold War paranoia:
One finger on the button
One finger up his nose
Johnny's in some cornfield
The early warning blows

Bigger is better
More is more
Look up, America!
Gonna even up the score

Get ready boys
Third time's a charm
Don't need no sweater
It's gonna keep you warm
If we can't have the ball, there won't be any winner this time

Them and us
Them and us
Ashes to ashes
Dust to dust

In forty-five minutes
It'll all be done
We'll all be good and crispy
But we'll still be number one

And if things go from bad to worse
We can still kill them if they kill us first
"Don't need no sweater/It's gonna keep you warm"? "We'll all be good and crispy/But we'll still be number one"? OK, so Henley might be an arrogant liberal dickhead. But at least he's a funny arrogant liberal dickhead.

Of course, the album wasn't a complete and total re-invention for the erstwhile country rocker. "Long Way Home," "Talking To The Moon," and "Lilah" are rustic, folk-based ballads that could have been recorded in 1982 or 2012, which is not to say that they sound "timeless," but rather that they sound like standard-issue Baby Boomer comfort food - let's call it Garrison Keillor rock. However, I'm still trying to wrap my head around "La Eile," a 50-second Irish instrumental with lilting flute. Don Henley's ... a leprechaun? "Ah, laddie, this takes me back to those soft, spring days out on the pasture, picking potatoes, drinkin' whiskey, and eatin' Lucky Charms."

Equally strange is the album closer, a version of the gospel standard "The Unclouded Day." Henley's found the spirit! The man's been born again!

See, you give the man a solo album, and look what happens. I'll tell you one thing: there's no way Glenn Frey would have stood for any of this shit.

No comments: