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The Two Voices of Don Henley

The singer's song craft and activism don't always balance on his new album.

*** DON HENLEY, "Inside Job", Warner Bros.

May 21, 2000|ROBERT HILBURN

Henley's passion and craft are evident at every turn in his first solo studio album in 11 years. But he continues to be an artist with separate and not always equal sides.

One side is the introspective, soul-searching singer-songwriter who chronicles the struggle between commitment and disillusionment with the insight and grace of a superior novelist. This is the Henley who gave us "The Boys of Summer," "The End of the Innocence" and "Sunset Grill."

The other side is the citizen activist who feels a responsibility to address social corruption. He did this well early in his solo career, tackling such worthy topics as tabloid journalism in "Dirty Laundry" and personal responsibility in "Johnny Can't Read."

But the commentary becomes grating at times in this 70-minute album, staining what is otherwise personal and affecting music.

Working with a variety of co-writers, Henley is most rewarding in a series of songs about a family man's blessings, from the sweet embrace of "Taking You Home" to a parent's devotion in "Annabel" to the warm declaration of "My Thanksgiving."

In the high-spirited "Everything Is Different Now," Henley even has fun with his old malcontent image. The song's opening line: I hate to tell you this, but I'm very, very happy.

Some of the commentary is also rewarding--notably "Goodbye to a River," an environmentally conscious ballad, and "They're Not Here, They're Not Coming," a look at false prophets that carries an especially winning beat.

Much of the attack--including the title track, "Workin' It" and "Nothing Else in the World but You"--is aimed against individual and corporate greed and manipulation, but the snarl becomes wearisome as Henley too often loses track of his pop-rock sensibilities in the heat of battle. (Henley plays the Universal Amphitheatre on July 15 and 16.)

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums will be in stores on Tuesday.

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