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you know i lost a lot of friends there baby

 

Van Halen

 

Just think: a metal band that sings about partying and girls, not about magicians' birthdays or numbers of the beast or iron men or whatever! Before Van Halen, this sort of thing was completely unheard of. Also unheard of was the level of soulless technical perfection that Eddie Van Halen brought to that thing called rock guitar. Sure, your Steve Howes or your Eric Claptons may have hinted in that direction, but it wasn't till Eddie combined ass-kicking hard-rock pentatonic riffery with masturbatory soloism that you got this new virtuosic level of electronic guitar. Not to mention six million losers who locked their bedroom doors and practiced for hours and gave us such wonderful bands as Warrant and Stryper.

You remember Stryper, don't you? To Hell With the Devil! Christian hair metal! How could that not work?

Anyway, the other band members range from the fruity Vegas showman/Rogaine spokesman David Lee Roth, to his replacement, 70s rocker turned frat boy Sammy Hagar, to his replacement, the completely indistinguished Gary "U.S." Cherone. The rhythm section consists of the plodding Michael Anthony (did you know there are other notes in a chord than the tonic and fifth, Mike?) and pound-the-skins-hard-and-simple Alex Van Halen (who plays cymbals less tastefully than Yessongs-era Alan White).

lineup: Michael Anthony (boring-ass bass); Alex Van Halen (drums and crash cymbal); Eddie Van Halen (doodleydoodleydoodley guitars, keyboards). With the terrible three: Gary Cherone (lame vocals on III only); Sammy Hagar (frat-boy vocals on 5150 to Balance); David Lee Roth (lounge vocals on I to 1984).

review index: I / II / Women & Children First / Fair Warning / Diver Down / 1984 / 5150 / OU812 / For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge / Balance / III

solos & sides:

David Lee Roth: Eat 'Em and Smile

missing albums: that live thing.

apex: 1984
nadir: III
overlooked: For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge


I - 1978

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love, Jamie's Crying, Running With the Devil, You Really Got Me
Worst songs: Atomic Punk

 

All right, Junior, listen up, and listen good, cause this is what you're going to find on the first Van Halen album. No less than three classic rock radio standards (in 1978!): the updated-for-a-new-era cover of "You Really Got Me" (I like it more than the original!), the Tone-Loc hit "Jamie's Crying", and the impossibly-slow-for-a-song-with-the-word-"devil"-in-the-title "Running With the Devil". Plus there's the somewhat-lesser-known-but-still-loved "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" (that riff! that RIFF!!!) and even a silly-blues-cover-which-showcases-the-beginnings-of-DLR's-Vegas-crooning-act called "Ice Cream Man". And the guitar wank explosion "Eruption", which is kind of irritating, especially because of all that stuff I alluded to in the opening bit, but since it's only about a minute long, I won't complain. And there's like, five other songs on here, none of which I have too clear a picture on, except for "Atomic Punk", the only track on which DLR's vocal style gets overly annoying. So uh, where was I going with this? I got no idea, mate. Shall we just assign a rating to it and move on? Sure!


II - 1979

Rating: ***
Best songs: Dance The Night Away, Beautiful Girls
Worst songs: Outta Love Again

 

I really dunno what to say about Han Valens. Each album contains some absolutely classic tracks (on this one, the pop gems "Dance the Night Away" -- what's more lovely and uplifting, the "ooh baby baby" part, or the titular lyric part? -- and "Beautiful Girls"), some decent-to-good album tracks (the opener "You're No Good" is basically a fusion of the "Jamie's Crying" vocals and "Running With the Devil" plodding groove), and usually an instrumental of some sort (on here it's "Spanish Fly", seemingly the inspiration for Trevor Rabin's solo spot on 9012Live). So? I dunno. Go blow some $ on this if you feel like it.


Women & Children First - 1980

Rating: ***
Best songs: And the Cradle Will Rock, Everybody Wants Some, Loss of Control
Worst songs: Romeo Delight

 

Okay, maybe I can say something about this one. Women & Children First contains possibly the most ass-kickingly cool opening one-two punch of songs in the entire career of Vaaaaaaan Halen. First song? The fuzzed-and-flanged-to-hell electric piano-pounding teen-rebellion anthem "And the Cradle Will Rock". Then while you recover from that one, you get the spooky "Everybody Wants Some", featuring an incredibly simplistic but effective riff. Too bad side one fizzles out -- "Fools" is decent but hardly worth the nearly six minutes it takes up, and "Romeo Delight" is quite annoyingly repetative, and you know how much I hate that.

Fortunately, side two saves some face. "Loss of Control" starts out hilariously like some Iron Maiden song or something, with DLR wailing like Dio or someone like that. The actual song is pretty cool, too, a frenetic tune that's probably faster than anything else they'd done up to this point. Then you get a couple acousticy songs, the bluesy "Take Your Whiskey Home" (okay, just the first part, anyway) and the silly vaudeville-ish (or something -- what do I look like, a musicologist?) "Could This Be Magic?". Then there's one more song, God knows what it might be. I think it was another single. Whatever. Let's move on.


Fair Warning - 1981

Rating: **
Best songs: Unchained
Worst songs: Sunday Afternoon in the Park/One Foot Out the Door, Dirty Movies, etc.

 

And so they went ahead and made another album that sounds exactly like every other damned album they've done. Seriously, folks, I can't see why this album is any better than the preceding three discos. In fact, dammit, there's only one radio standard this time, namely the enjoyable "Unchained". What's up with that? This is pop-metal, it should be on the radio!

Anyway, this one opens with the okay pounding rocker "Mean Street", which, despite the stupid pseudo-tough lyrics, is pretty fun, if a bit overlong. Then there's "Dirty Movies", which fails to be in any way interesting. Then blah blah blah until we get to "Unchained". I'm sorry, I don't get it. What's the big deal? This album isn't that great! In fact, it's not even good. It's boring. Boring, do you hear me? BORING!

...Did you even think I would like it?


Diver Down - 1982

Rating: **
Best songs: (Oh) Pretty Woman, Dancing in the Street, Where Have All the Good Times Gone?
Worst songs: Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now), Happy Trails, Secrets, most of the filler...er...I mean, original material

 

Either the band was tired of coming up with a whole 30 minutes of original material per record, or David Lee Roth felt it was the time to jumpstart his future career as a lounge singer, but this time they decided, hell, why not make an album that's half covers? (Okay, okay, technically 41.67%, but you get the idea.)

The question, of course, is whether or not the covers suck. In the case of "Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)" and "Happy Trails", the answer is a resounding yes. I mean, how is this stupid jokey Vegasey bullshit any worse than Sammy Hagar's stupid fratboy macho bullshit? Well, anyway, the other covers aren't so bad: the Kinks' "Where Have All the Good Times Gone?" is a nice stompy opener, and Roy "the Man in Black...Shades" Orbison's "(Oh) Pretty Woman" is, of course, a classic tune. Val Kilmen don't eclipse the original, but they do it well. And of course there's "Dancing in the Streets", which has been covered by every band in existance (even Deicide), but they at least put some neat synthy (or processed guitar) noises in there.

But then we get to the originals. Lame? Lame. "Secrets" is freakin' borin', and "Intruder" is a pointless bit of pseudo-creepy guitar instrumentalism. "Little Guitars" features another Eddie wankfest intro, though the song isn't bad. "Hang 'Em High" is probably the best original on here, and that's not even saying much. It's a good thing they chose a few really good covers to put on here, because without them this album would be even worse than Van Cherone.


1984 - 1984

Rating: ****
Best songs: the hits, duh
Worst songs: Drop Dead Legs, House of Pain

 

About time they pulled their heads out of their amplifiers (?) and made a really good album. You know all the hits, so what are those other tracks on here? "Top Jimmy" and "Girl Gone Bad" are a coupla nice uptempo tracks (the latter featuring some guitarwork that's quite astonishing, even for EVH!), "Drop Dead Legs" unfortunately presages Van Hagar, and "House of Pain" is ehhh, kinda lame.

But enough about that, let's talk about the really important part: the pictures of the band on the back cover! Why does David Lee Roth look like Sting? And why are the rest of the band such a homely bunch of dudes? Oh well. After this, DLR had an ego fit and went off to do a schlocky Vegasy solo career. His albums are pretty easy to find cheap, so I might just try one out someday.


5150 - 1986

Rating: ***
Best songs: Why Can't This Be Love Walks In Dreams...or something like that
Worst songs: Summer Nights, Inside

 

Look, this one's a real turning point: the back of the album says it's available on cassette and CD! And Mick Jones of Foreigner (and the Clash) produced it! Oh, also, Sammy Hagar (joke: what's his AOL screen name? cantdrive55, of course! hahahahaha! Sorry...) is the new lead singer. But don't lose hope yet, as (like all those other albums they did up to 1986) this album sure ain't bad. And it's surprising that for once there are ballads on a Van Halen record! THREE of them, for goodness' sake. And they're the best songs on here, strangely enough -- not something you'd expect from Sam Halen.

As for the other songs, it opens with "Good Enough", a dumb macho rocker that's otherwise pretty darned catchy song, though it sounds like pretty much every other song they've recorded. I'm not sure if that's good or bad. It's got a ripoff of the "Owner of a Lonely Heart" riff near the end, too. And some electronic drums. Whatever. The songs on the end of each side ("Summer Nights" -- you want a summer hit? "Panama", not this tripe! -- and "Inside") are pretty lame. The rest is okay.

Best line: "only time will tell if we stand the test of time". Yeah, I guess time would be the only thing to tell that.

The band still looks a bunch of dorks though. Look at the back cover -- Eddie's sporting a mullet, Sammy looks like he belongs in the Thompson Twins, Alex is trying so hard (and failing so badly) to look aloof and cool, and Michael still hasn't figured out how to grow a beard.


OU812 - 1988

Rating: **
Best songs: Mine All Mine, Finish What Ya Started
Worst songs: A Apolitical Blues, Cabo Wabo, Black and Blue

 

It's a little silly for me to be reviewing Van Hagar, when everyone hates them anyway. And you can get any of their albums for like, four bucks or so on ebay or whatnot. (Or you can just copy your completist friend's CDs.)

Anyway, you know how the story goes. Pseudo-sensitive ballads, macho dumbass rockers, and not enough material to justify the running time. The stompy opener "Mine All Mine" and incredibly-clean-guitar-driven mega-hit "Finish What Ya Started" (like English classes...'ya'?) are the best parts of this album, and the other hit "Feels So Good" is moderately pleasant. There's a bunch of boring shit stuffed in here too. "Source of Infection" has a pretty damned neat intro, but of course the actual song is pretty lame. I won't bother going into the rest, because really, does this album need close examination? I'd make fun of the way the band looks, but I don't have the actual album to examine. So I'll just close this review by saying: don't pay a lot for a muffler.

I mean, for a Van Hagar album.


For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge - 1991

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: Top of the World, Runaround, Right Now, Judgement Day
Worst songs: In 'n Out, Spanked

 

As it is the duty of web reviewers to make "controversial" statements about certain albums from time to time, I will fulfill my duties now: I can honestly say that this is my second or third favorite Van Halen album. Seriously, DLR or no DLR, I much prefer this to Women & Children First, 5150, or II (not to mention the two after this). Okay, so it's not perfect ("Spanked" and "In 'n Out" both suck bananas, and "Man on a Mission" only has the riff going for it), but man, look at all the good tunes on here! You've got the catchy-as-hell pop-rockers "Runaround", "The Dream Is Over", and "Top of the World", the Pepsi anthem "Right Now" (remember that part in the video when it said, 'right now, Michael Anthony is working on a solo album'? I wonder why that never came to fruition), the incredibly-uptempo "Judgement Day", and other fun songs for your enjoyment. Sure, half of the album is recycled (doesn't "Right Now" sound a lot like the intro to "Top Jimmy"? Isn't "STAAANDIN' on top of the world" a lot like "DAAAAAAANCE the night away"? and I swear that riff is stolen from a Toto song), but I don't place that much importance on innovation. Put aside your hatred of Sammy Hagar and enjoy!


Balance - 1995

Rating: ***
Best songs: The Seventh Seal, Can't Stop Loving You, Don't Tell Me What Love Can Do, Feelin'
Worst songs: Amsterdam, Big Fat Money, Strung Out, Doing Time

 

As is the way things go, the Nirvanas came along right after Unlawful and killed off the whole hair-metal thing. Which was unfortunate for Van Halen -- they were a dumb hard rock party band, sure, but hair-metal? Aside from Sammy's perm and Eddie's mid-80s mullet (the worst hairstyle ever, yeah; why was it popular for a time in the mid-to-late-80s?), I don't think that really applies to them.

Of course, it could be argued that the whole grunge thing passed EVH Inc. by -- after all, Sammy's replacement was in his very own 80s buttrock band, Extreme (too bad I can't get any of their albums, huh?). And when they finally released this album, 1995, Nirvana was dead (well, partially dead, anyway), Pearl Jam was already releasing crappy albums, and Radiohead was still two years from their piece de resistance, Songs for My Texas Instruments TI99/4A.

None of this really matters, though, as it's the music that matters. This one features two really horrid songs -- the dumbass fratboy pot anthem "Amsterdam" and the dumbass rock star money anthem "Big Fat Money" (this is roughly what "It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)" would sound like if Michael Stipe wasn't so goddamn gay). There's also a couple pointless bits of percussion, entitled "Strung Out" and "Doing Time". The rest ain't too bad at all. "Can't Stop Loving You" is the requisite Hagar the Horrible ballad, and is incredibly generic but still fun, the opener "The Seventh Seal" is quite nifty (featuring some monks chanting -- so the true path to religious enlightenment is to sing backup on a late-period Van Halen album?), and "Don't Tell Me What Love Can Do" pounds even harder than usual, and features those "AHHHHHHHHHHHHH" backing vocals that half of all Van Halen songs have (making it good, or something like that). Hmm, what else is there? Oh, yeah, "Baluchitherium", my favorite of Eddie's instrumental circle jerks, mostly because he took ten minutes to think up a melody instead of going nweeeeeerdoodleydoodleydoodley for a minute and a half. "Aftershock" has some nice riffing, there's some more ballads, and that's about it.

You know, it really helps if you think of Van Halen as two different bands -- David Lee Roth's happy-go-lucky crazy funtime party rock band, and Sammy Hagar's cock-rockin' stadium-poundin' macho-swaggerin' hard rock band.

And Gary Cherone's lame-ass Van Halen tribute band.


III - 1998

Rating: *1/2
Best songs: Dirty Water Dog, Without You, Josephina
Worst songs: One I Want, From Afar, How Many Say I, Fire in the Hole

 

Wanna know how to alienate your fans? Other than releasing Metal Machine Music, you can hire the worst possible choice for a replacement singer. Seriously, new arrival Gary Cherone sounds like Sammy Hagar with a sore throat emulating Steve Perry. And his singing absolutely ruins what could've been a really good album -- Eddie's riffing on here is the most energetic you'll get without pulling out the old David Lee Roth albums. There's another problem on here, though, and that is the issue of running times. Aside from a couple instrumental bits, none of the songs get any shorter than five minutes. "Year to the Day" is even 8:34 -- in the DLR era, that would be nearly an entire side of the goddamned album!

Despite this, however, there are some good points to the record: the minimal hit single "Without You" is nice, though not in a particularly 'hey, that's a damn catchy song' way. "Dirty Water Dog" is an amazing song, mainly because Gary's singing does not once get my hackles up (the opposite of this is "One I Want", where he annoys me the whole freakin' time). And "Josephina" is about the most nicely melodic thing on here, chorus-wise anyways. On el side del flip, you have "From Afar", which bears an interesting riff, but doesn't actually do anything with it; Eddie's vocal debut "How Many Say I" is pretty lame -- the arrangement sounds like he's not sure what he wants to do with it. Is it a piano ballad? Is it Elton friggin' John? Would I really even care, at this point?

Then there's the two "epics", "Once" and "Year to the Day". Can you say Calling All Stations? I knew you could. They're both mildly interesting, but not really worth eight minutes each or whatever. Two more songs "grace" this record, but I'm tired of it already and don't feel like discussing it. Lame. At least Eddie isn't in a hurry to record another album. Of course, if I had a wife like that, I wouldn't be either.


Appendix: Solo Albums and Side Projects


David Lee Roth, Eat 'Em and Smile - 1986

Rating: ***
Best songs: Yankee Rose, Tobacco Road, Goin' Crazy, I'm Easy
Worst songs: Big Trouble, Shyboy, Ladies' Night in Buffalo

 

Unsurprisingly, this David Lee Roth solo album is like a goofier, more cartoony Van Halen. The band includes Steve Vai (generic-brand shredder), Billy Sheehan (bass wankmeister, a heck of a lot more fun than Mike Ant), and some guy on drums (who cares?). Why is this fact important? Because "Shyboy" is an incredibly lame tune, just a chance for the band to show off. Other than that, this album is pretty good. "I'm Easy" is a sleazy uptempo blues, "Tobacco Road" is that old song all the garage bands covered in the 60s, and works fine for me, "Yankee Rose" has some nice harmonizing and stuff, "Goin' Crazy" basically does that 1984 synth/guitar rock thing (well), uhhhhhhh, oh, there's more silliness in "Elephant Gun" and the closing-time lounge tune "That's Life". Screw the rest.

Oh, wait, I forgot, "Ladies' Night in Buffalo" doesn't do a whole lot, including entertaining me, the listener. Same with "Big Trouble". So good? Good, es bueno! Ja. Whatever. I don't know what's scarier, that I bought this just for reviewing purposes, or that I actually enjoy it. Let's get out of here, now.

Note to David Lee Roth: song titles do not require ending punctuation. Thanks. --mgmt.


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