|The Eagles - Hell Freezes Over|
|Music Disc Reviews DTS 5.1 CD|
|Written by Jerry Del Colliano|
|Tuesday, 25 November 1997|
The Eagles were arguably the most popular band in rock during the musically prolific 1970s, crossing mainstream pop with country sensibilities. The Eagles' multi-platinum sound is epitomized by solid-gold hits like "Life In The Fast Lane," "Take It Easy" and the immortal, if perhaps overplayed, "Hotel California." Legendary in-fighting caused the Eagles to break up after recording their sixth studio album, resulting in highly successful solo careers for Don Henley, Joe Walsh and Glenn Frey.
14 years after going their separate ways, the Eagles reunited to play live for the aptly titled Hell Freezes Over record. This collection of tunes was recorded live and mastered in 24-bit, 5.1 DTS surround sound. This of course requires the use of a 5.1 music (and/or home theater) system, complete with 5.1 loudspeakers and a DTS decoder, to enjoy the fully encompassing and highly resolute rock show encoded herein. There is no stereo version on the disc. If you are wondering why you see this DTS CD on display or lying around in every audio/video store in America, there is a good reason. It is very possibly the most resolute music ever recorded onto CD.
Mixing 5.1 live is a different challenge than mixing a 5.1 studio effort. In the studio, I can accept the backup singers coming from the rear channels. In a full-scale rock show, it harder to understand. Hell Freezes Over seems to be mixed more from the perspective of the sound engineer at the console than from someone on stage or at the back of the venue. The mix is emotionally enveloping, but remains tasteful. On Hell Freezes Over, mostly crowd noise and ambience are mixed into the rears, which creates incredible soundstage depth, especially when compared to the stereo version. Musically, having three front channels gives the producer and engineer the ability to pinpoint the musicians more accurately, so that they sound as they do on stage. With a center channel in the mix and at 24-bit master resolution, you have the ability to hear the subtlest details, even in a most complex arrangement.
I never need to hear the studio version of "Hotel California" ever again. It is truly a rock anthem, much in the same vein as Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven" and Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Freebird" are. However, all three are completely played out. Just as Eric Clapton breathed new life into Derrick and The Dominos’ "Layla," the Eagles have given a new lease on life to "Hotel California" with an inventive and inspired performance on Hell Freezes Over. This version of "Hotel California" makes for one of the finest musical demos in recent memory, as it features an acoustic arrangement of the tune, coupled with a huge bass sound from the drums. On top of these are layered all sorts of bongos, drums and other percussive accoutrements. Add in a very familiar tune with dead-on vocal harmonies and you've got yourself one heck of a demo track.
Other strong tracks on Hell Freezes Over include "New York Minute." (I had a hard time listening to the lyrics in first verse after April's tech-stock crash.) One of the more electric arrangements on Hell Freezes Over is "Life In The Fast Lane," which picks up the mood of a mostly down-tempo performance. The vocal harmonies are the draw on "Life In The Fast Lane," as well as some smoking Joe Walsh guitar work.
I am not the biggest fan of the Eagles and I feel that Led Zeppelin was a better band in the 1970s. However, it is hard to argue with the historic commercial success of the Eagles and their Rolling Stones-like staying power and fan loyalty. You wouldn't be remiss to make Hell Freezes Over the only Eagles CD you own if you are not a huge fan. If you are a loyalist, it is good enough to warrant investing a few thousand dollars in a 5.1 music playback system. Hell Freezes Over is one of the elite 5.1 mixes that employs the sound format to best advantage and shows restraint and taste when using the power of 5.1 to beautifully recreate a musical event. Hell Freezes Over should be on your short list of demo material for your 5.1 system.