INSIDE JOB (WARNER BROS.)

DON HENLEY 

INSIDE JOB (WARNER BROS.)

Ah, synergy. Millions of Americans who flipped to ER a couple weeks back to get a small-screen fix of George Clooney were treated to the cloying new single from Don Henley, playing under an already maudlin reunion sequence. Eleven years after his last solo album, having wiggled free of Geffen during the first Eagles reunion -- an event that beat an unbelievable amount of cash from the Corporate Rock piñata -- the most self-important man in middle-of-the-road (witness his six-minute introduction to "Dirty Laundry" on VH1 Storytellers, as though that song weren't ham-fisted enough) is ensconced on Warner Bros., the conglomerate that also produces ER. So "Taking You Home" was unveiled in time for doctor and nurse to nuzzle before the credits, and, the theory goes, millions of ER fans scratched their chins and decided their next music purchase would be the new Henley disc.

Inside Job is ideal listening for prime time television slaves. It slinks and snorts with modern-sounding studio flourishes, such as programmed hip-hop beats and looped bass tracks -- production that will probably sound adventurous to Peter Cetera devotees. There are also soft guitar ballads that genuflect to the audience that snapped up the 1994 tribute disc that paired country acts to Eagles songs. And lyrically, the whole thing works the territory Henley staked out nearly 20 years ago after tipping the Hotel California bellman: sensitive-guy disgruntlement expressed with caustic pomposity. Since his first solo album, Henley has made it his business to remind simple folks that The Man is coming to sodomize and devour. But he's always done so less to warn than to celebrate his own savvy. You think that you're so smart, but you don't have a fucking clue/What those men up in the towers are doing to me and you, he sings on the title track, a minor-key bitch that filters Henley's vocals to better express his worry over faceless political and business enemies. What the men in the towers are up to is the deployment of pat product like Inside Job.

When he's not grafting midlife crisis onto tiger beats, Henley is slipping on Shania Twain's hip boots. The infrequent songs during which the tempo cruises past the school-zone speed limit sound as calculatedly robotic as Twain's singles, substituting disingenuous umbrage for disingenuous cooing. And as you'd expect of someone whose lyric-writing groove is the middlebrow stencil for well-funded ranting (You're being treated to the wisdom of some puffed-up little fart, he sings on "Damn It, Rose"), Henley refuses to inch out farther than before, unless you count the dearth of memorable hooks here. He's rock's Dennis Miller, with a big, big recording budget and a Miller-like facility for starting clever and finishing insufferable (the disc is 70 minutes long). And like Miller, 10-10-telephone spokesman and M&M addict, Henley is another shill who thinks that being mad at the system you serve is the same as being an insurgent. Not even George Clooney could save this patient.

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