Eagles of Death Metal - Heart On Review

Make no mistake about it, Eagles of Death Metal is both a side project and a tongue-in-cheek joke. Joshua Homme, better known for leading perhaps the best hard rock band on the planet, Queens of the Stone Age, knows a thing or two about lethal guitar riffs and swinging grooves. But for all of the snickers summoned up by Queens’ eccentric side, they’re a serious band—playful but entirely straight-faced about it. Eagles of Death Metal, on the other hand, is just plain funny, from their crazy (and not terribly accurate) band name to their over-the-top performance. Seen live, they throw one gloriously decadent party: charismatic musicians posing and parading in ways that border on buffoonery, scantily-clad babes bouncing and grinding to the beat, lots of sweat and leather; big moustaches, big breasts, big fun. That they’ve lasted three albums is nothing short of a miracle—a side project and a joke act? Maybe good humor is a cure-all elixir, after all.

Third one in, you know what to expect. All of Eagles of Death Metal’s albums are roughly of the same quality. There’s a slight drop-off from their debut, Peace Love Death Metal, to Death by Sexy, just as there is from that one to this new effort, Heart On, but I doubt fans of any EoDM record won’t like the rest (conversely, detractors likely won’t be converted). Not much has changed: they still do Rolling Stones meets ZZ Top rock-from-below-the-belt stuff. More than ever, they’re going Stones boogie rock. Singer Jesse Hughes has honed his voicebox to imitate Mick Jagger so well that you would swear it was the American-ized real deal. And when the grinding riff from the album opener, “Anything ‘Cept the Truth,” first hits you, it’s like discovering a long lost Stones recording. If it wasn’t the flattery of imitation, it might even be insulting how close it is.

The good times continue with first single, “Wannabe in L.A.,” a surprisingly restrained (for them) groove-rocker. Aside from the fuzzy guitar breakout during the middle, the only thing heavy about the track is the attitude. “High Voltage” owes little musically to AC/DC, but it’s as lyrically straightforward and dunderheaded as the Aussies usually are. “She’s high voltage, she loves rock n’ roll-a.” You usually don’t get much more insightful than that with these guys. And when they slow things down, like on “Now I’m a Fool,” they just sound like the Stones running through a ballad. No one ever accused them of being inventive with their arrangements.

Elsewhere, EoDM borrows a vocal trick or song fragment here and there from other rock icons like Clapton and Walsh and even a faint whiff of III-era Zeppelin (the start of “Prissy Prancin’"). They’re also not afraid to hearken to music from the 80s and 90s: a dash of grunge, a dollop of garage revival, a sprinkling of hair metal. “How Can a Man with So Many Friends Feel So Alone” starts out on a riff that actually sounds plucked from a Cake record, of all things. The rumbling, low-slung closer, “I’m Your Torpedo,” has a rhythm that feels like “My Sharona” played in reverse.

So how do Hughes and Homme get away with otherwise flagrant plagiarism? Because Eagles of Death Metal prescribes to music from the gut instead of the mind, it can either be written off as homage, incidental or abjectly unavoidable. There’s no swagger they could summon at this point that hasn’t been perfected by someone else. And there isn’t an original power-chord riff left unwritten. EoDM is all about how the music gets to your hips and shoulders (to say nothing for the naughty parts), not how innovative or imaginative they can make it. It’s hard to think concretely when life as they paint it is all about sex, drugs and rock n’ roll (and booze…how could I forget booze?).

The only thing that really establishes Heart On against its predecessors is an occasionally darker demeanor. More minor keys this time and the bass is always slapping the floor. Particularly on the second half, songs like “Solo Flights” and “Cheap Thrills” may seem to be about goofy good times (one details masturbation, the other is a guitar inferno), but the mood is like the hangover after the debauchery. It’s an odd choice—to be properly repentant, they would have had to excise at least six or seven other songs that soak in the sleaze—and not always a shrewd one. Kinda tough to ponder the meaning of it all when the tempos are suggesting less academic, more horizontal exercises. Don't forget: it’s always a dangerous proposition when the comedian decides to try his hand in tragedy.

But the serious moments are short-lived and the band is still about wild times and comical exuberance. Hughes described the new album to Spin Magazine as, “EODM's latest fabulous weapon, a top-secret music missile, a sonic warhead sexually tipped for her pleasure, shot from the deck of USS EODM Mantastic Fantastic.” As Nigel Tufnel famously said, “There’s such a thin line between clever and stupid,” and indeed, Eagles of Death Metal not only walks that line but also finds itself stumbling one way or the other quite often. They’re going to need to come up with some new tricks (or at the very least, some different ones) if they plan to make a fourth or fifth album. But EoDM is always a good time and they should be proud they’ve lasted this long.

"Heart On" is on sale October 28, 2008 from Downtown.

Matt Medlock


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