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Class ?

Main Category: Heavy Metal
Also applicable: Guitar Heroes, Arena Rock
Starting Period: The Punk/New Wave Years
Also active in: The Divided Eighties, From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Van Halen fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Van Halen fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Year Of Release: 1978

I have an ambivalent feeling towards this record. As far as the hard rock/heavy metal scene goes, Van Halen was probably the last album to make any kind of revolutionary effect in the business, introducing a new type of sound and even more than that, a new type of 'metal conscience'. Where bands like Motorhead pioneered the wild, observe-no-barrier approach so fit for Eighties metal, and bands like Black Sabbath prepared the grounds for the 'rhythmic principles' of thrash and speed metal, Eddie burst out almost of nowhere and laid the ground for everything else. But is that a good thing? Look at the "poodle metal" of the Eighties and tell me you can't see Eddie's heavy hand over that stuff, and this album's particular influence. No, I don't accuse Van Halen the album of cheapness and lack of taste, but from a general point of view, it might have been better if it never existed... then again, can we blame the Stones for Aerosmith or Genesis for Kansas? Let's just take the best and get away from the worst.

In any case, Van Halen's debut still stands out as a cool, dazzling album even after all those years. In case you somehow missed out on it, here's the lowdown: a boatload of (mostly mid-tempo, sometimes fast) metallic rockers, highlighted by exactly two things: Eddie Van Halen's leaden, angel-of-death-sorta-thing riffs and sweeping innovative solos, and David Lee Roth's vocals, which are... err... interesting. I really mean it, it's not a compliment or a demonstration of irony - I mean, Dave does all he can to sound interesting, shifting moods whenever he can and always letting us understand that notwithstanding all the heaviness and all the bloated production values, he's mainly in it just for the fun. Nice to have that kind of consolation.

How good are these rockers? Hmm... see, if they were all really that good, I would have easily given the record an even higher rating. But it's useless to pretend that the record doesn't have any filler, because it certainly does. At least a quarter of it. What's up with the dreadful 'Ice Cream Man', for instance? Yes, it is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, but hearing Dave imitate yer average ol' bluesman chasing after little girls just doesn't tie in with the band's style a single bit. And do we really need a cover of 'You Really Got Me'? I suppose the only thing it does is that Eddie wanted to establish some kind of 'legacy' linking his newly found hard rock style to that of the Godfathers of the genre, and so paid the Kinks a respectable tribute. Well, thank you and all that, but I'll still take the original.

Most of the originals are quite fathomable, though. The important thing to note about Van Halen is that many of these songs are essentially pop numbers cleverly disguised as heavy metal rave-ups, because the emphasis is often put on the catchy vocal melodies instead of guitar pyrotechnics. By far the most obvious example, of course, is the goofy 'Jamie's Cryin', a really really poisonous misogynistic tale highlighted by a soaring chorus that wouldn't have been out of place on a Herman's Hermits record back in the good old days. Of course, the Hermits would never have dreamed of basing the song on such a monster riff as Eddie, but did I really need to say that?

Elsewhere, the refrains are not so blatantly POP, but still, "metal pop" is the one tag I'd be most ready to hang onto the record. 'Atomic Punk' is hilarious, with Dave pulling out his most intentionally dumb intonations on the refrain: 'nobody rules these streets at nights like mee-e-e-e-e... THE ATOMIC PUNK!' A tribute to barroom boogie is necessary as well, and 'Feel Your Love Tonight' fills in the gap. Lynyrd Skynyrd would be proud of the boys. Power ballads? How can the most innovative metal album of the late Seventies get on without a power ballad? Here you go with 'Little Dreamer'! And you know what? I kinda like it. I suppose Mr Roth just has that talent to pull off even the most pompous tunes not sounding like.. like... like Dennis DeYoung. Or Dave Byron. You know what I mean. Seriously now, 'Little Dreamer' is not a great melodic song, but the craftmanship of Eddie and Dave load it with an extra charge that makes me forget the rest. For some reason, that moment when Eddie beats out that one-chord rhythm and Dave goes with his 'they may talk about you cold when you were headed for the skies' hits really hard. I mean really hard.

That said, I still like the record for all the wrong reasons. Because most of the "classic" tracks, to me, seem to have become "classics" for all the wrong reasons. A song like 'Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love', for instance, is essentially inherited from the Kiss style - it never even lives up to Eddie's steamy opening riff. And 'Runnin' With The Devil' is just a stupid mid-tempo monotonous stagger. Maybe a good way to introduce the album and present Eddie's guitar as that cool powerful object, but it sure ain't no 'Purple Haze'. And Robin Trower used to write far better songs than that. The short guitar breaks are nice, though.

Everybody seems to like the short Eddie showcase 'Eruption', and I suppose it showcases Eddie in a really showcasing way, but that's called 'self-indulgence'. Why not incorporate those awesome hammer-ons inside a real song? Yes, they are impressive, but it's not even a real instrumental composition. It's just one minute and forty seconds of 'look at me, I can tap with both hands and you cannot'. And Lord knows I'm not the one to accuse people of self-indulgence on every corner. Not even Jimi Hendrix, who was quite a gimmick lover in the good old days, did anything like that. {Psst! And we all know it was actually Steve Hackett that invented the hammer-on technique! Don't tell anybody!]

Still, don't flame me if you happen to serve as high priest in the Eddie temple. I really enjoy the record - dammit, I even enjoy the hits, because the guitar sound is fantastiwastic throughout. The only thing I wanted to do was shatter the Van Halen throne a little and show that not everything is as perfect as it looks. And it absolutely goes without saying that I would grab Van Halen over any kind of generic Eighties' hair metal band any time of day, because these guys knew how to take themselves with irony and knew how to make their music fresh and unique. For the time, at least.



Year Of Release: 1979

It's like 'Jamie's Crying' impressed them so much, they decided to go ahead and pursue a career in P-P-P-O-P altogether. I mean, there's no way you can ever get away from Eddie's trailblazing solos and leather-clad riffs, but there's actually, what, female backing vocals on here? Happy-sounding infantile harmonies? Great commercially inclined fun and no particular evil in sight? Whatever.

It's a little weaker than the debut anyway, mainly because of the usual thing: the Genius came, declared himself for what he is, and now you're perfectly well aware of what you should be expecting, like after each typical presidential campaign. Of course, some presidents do behave themselves in unprecedented and unexpected ways, but it's not like there's nothing new on Van Halen II. Oh, I dunno, there's 'Spanish Fly', for instance, and don't you squirm because of the title; a bad pun is a bad pun, but it's pretty nifty to hear the little instrumental anyway. It is a bit Spanish in mode, but the main reason for its existence is Eddie Van Halen's desire to show he can master that tapping technique on acoustic as well. Whoah!

The really gruff, really hard numbers aren't entirely on their way out either, of course. There's at least two of these terrific hard rockers here that for some reason never became classics though they fully deserve it. 'D.O.A.' ('Dead Or Alive', of course, and nothing to do with the Bloodrock song that did become a classic - because God-fearing people used to substitute it for 'Black Sabbath' so much!) seems to take the basic riff of 'You Really Got Me', twist it a little bit, adds a tough chorus and comes up as the band's most sincere-sounding declamation of libertarianism and, uh, miscreancy. But then there's also 'Somebody Get Me A Doctor', a tune which I initially suspected was just more cock-rock rubbish, but it actually is an anti-drugs song, and a damn good one. Gotta love David Lee Roth cavorting on that one, as well as on some of the other tunes; the man actually improves on the Robert Plant manner of adlibbing ad infinitum - he knows when to stop, and he actually has a whole battery of yells and yelps and yodellings, unlike the eternal dilemma of "babeee babeee" vs. "squeeze my lemon".

But how come the album starts with a Linda Ronstadt cover or something? 'You're No Good' is kinda weird, I guess, but at least it's been reworked to total unrecognizability, and I really doubt Linda Ronstadt could ever scream her head off so well as Dave does in counterpoint to Eddie's fast screeching chords, no matter what any irate German fanclub presidents might tell you. 'Dance The Night Away', however, is a straightforward 'meek' kind of song, more like power pop than heavy metal, with happy angelic backing vocals and the anger forgotten somewhere over the threshold. Hey, these backing vocals remind me of Yes of all kind of things, how's that for rockin' out? Never mind, the song is pretty nice. Not exactly "featuring a hook to end all the hooks", and actually, the hook is pretty feeble, but at least they do pull off the song without embarrassing themselves... except for, you know, what's up with all the recycled song titles? Bloodrock? Cream? And here I was hoping for a cover so much...

You know, if I might let myself go for a moment, I must actually complain about Eddie a bit. Van Halen II is just clearly not Eddie's album - it is really mainly a major showcase for Dave, just as Van Halen was primarily a guitar-centered album. Not that I really mind, but it doesn't look like Eddie is living up to all the potential on II. Sure there's the riffage and the soloing, but there's only like two or three riffs really worth memorizing, and the solos are pretty generic, at least, that is what they really sound as now. But I'm not sure if they didn't sound a little disappointing back in 1979 as well. Eddie really has this sound that's pretty unique for him, but this is very much just due to the production technologies. See how everything has this deep solid echo to it? It's hardly like, I dunno, Judas Priest, which for all of the Seventies sounded as if they were playing right in your room. This echo, combined with really gruff distortion, makes the guitar sound so powerful, but in reality, it's not all that exciting. And dammit, if you're the speediest guitarist on Earth, play at least a few of those really fast solos - the fastest passages on the entire album are on 'Spanish Fly', of all things.

Instead, we finish the album on the novelty cock rock tune 'Beautiful Girls', which isn't without a certain dumb charm of its own, but is certainly a bit iffy (and all the background vocals just sound like they're being delivered by Sha Na Na). And needless to say, Eddie's aggressive metal soloing certainly doesn't tie in with the likes of this number, which makes matters even more confused. Nevertheless, like I said, there's a whole bunch of really powerful stuff on here anyway - and the album is entertaining throughout, which is why it deserves a better rating than the Titanic soundtrack, at least.



Year Of Release: 1980

No Van Halen record, none at all, ever start out as great as this one. 'And The Cradle Will Rock' is one of Van Halen's most well-strung anthemic deliveries, a blistering, magnificent rocker that milks the band's potential to the absolute max. Granted, it lacks one of those unforgettable riffs that would make it rank among the highest classics, but the chord sequence is far from trivial anyway. Dave gets a sputtering, stuttering, angry vocal workout, and the chorus lifts arena rock to totally new levels. It's got all the evil and menace of AC/DC, with the snarling sneering 'roooock on!' culmination, but none of that band's cheesiness. Even the lyrics are unusually good, a comment on the fates of today's generation that somehow manages to either avoid the usual cliches or use them in a confident, self-conscious manner: 'well they say it's kinda frightening how this younger generation swings/you know, it's more than just some new sensation...'.

Of course, if you thought the song initiated Van Halen as a socially relevant, newborn-intelligent band, your hopes will be dashed with the following track. One look at the title is enough: 'Everybody Wants Some!'. But now that the intelligent social commentators have jumped ship, let's just state the fact that this here track manages to do what KISS had been trying to do for more than half of a decade in a way that obliterates that shitty band's output altogether. A great party anthem with inventive riffage throughout and Diamond Dave's vocals sounding...

...oh wait, there's the tricky thing. From what I hear, some people are actually put off by David's vocal performance on this album. I guess many hard rock singers just make it like that, starting out in a somewhat timid and restrained manner, and then gradually lashing it out more and more, both out of growing self-assurance in the studio and a desire to flaunt their own personality. Look at Robert Plant circa Led Zep I and then circa Zoso and tell me if he hadn't changed a lot. Same with Dave. He manages to be almost as big a star on this album as Eddie and in some respects maybe even more so. He yells, growls, bursts out in hideous laughter, emulates redneck and jive accents, tries this and that and sometimes comes off as kinda obnoxious. But it's hard for me to dislike any of Dave's performances on here simply because, well, he's not demanding anything of me. You know how it goes? Lou Gramm seems to be saying, 'hey, I'll show you some great fuckin' emotional singing!'. Paul Stanley seems to be saying, 'hey, I'm not much of a singer, but that's how life goes, so I'll sing you a song about pussy as if it were the meaning of life!'. Dave just does his tail-waggin' comic-shop delivery and that's it. He's not asking you to bow down to his talent. And in doing so, he actually creates an entirely new type of hard rock personality: the self-conscious tongue-in-cheek idiot. I don't object to that.

So that's how I feel in a nutshell. And this is why I actually dig the hell of the catchy acoustic ditty 'Could This Be Magic', essentially 'Ice Cream Man Vol. 2', but self-penned and more complex, with three distinct melodies and great guitar overdubs from Eddie. Of course, one might question the good taste of the band once you do get to realize what the line 'better save the women and children first' actually means, but nobody asks you to pay attention to the lyrics anyway unless they're from 'And The Cradle Will Rock'. Hey!

There are some more classy rockers on the record. Most notably 'Take Your Whisky Home', I guess, although essentially it's just a heavier take on the Lynyrd Skynyrd vibe... but then again, that rule applies to a lot of Van Halen. Take out the crunch and the speed and the hammer-ons and you're left with a solid Southern rock band with a decent level of creativity. One of my favourites, too, is 'Fools', with easily the most impressive, if not the most complex, riff on the record, and another attempt at a 'serious' message - although this time one might question if Dave's idiot attitude is well compatible with a chorus like 'ooh, I live with fools?' Then again, I guess that's the pleasure of the paradox.

The trouble with the album is that few of the songs are actually memorable, and also I may be wrong here, but I do not believe Eddie is really at his best throughout. Maybe he just intentionally tried to avoid "flashing" on the record, with nothing reminiscent of 'Eruption' and stuff, but I guess sometimes a little bit of "flashing" is necessary just to get the blood flowing properly, particularly since it's Eddie Van Halen, guitar revolutionary and so on. As such, Eddie's "experimentation" on the record is limited to the fifty seconds of 'Tora! Tora!', where he practices imitating a motorcycle in the first half and wastes his talent playing crushing power chords on the second half. Umm... that's not creativity, I guess. Oh well, at least they dumped the female backing vocals for this album. And in general, it sounds a little less commercial and less blatantly "pop-metal" than last time around.



Year Of Release: 1981

It's kinda strange how this one is so short, but that doesn't prevent it from being the strongest bunch o' tunes in the Van Halen collection (well, the second strongest, actually) before synthesizers and Sammy Hagar took their toll on the band's fortunes. Most people like Fair Warning because it's the angriest album, where David Lee Roth drops most of his foolish posturing in favour of a more pissed-off attitude in general, and does it well. Another thing, however, is that Eddie's passionate love for jaw-droppingly crunchy guitar riffs peaks at an all-time high on here.

Essentially, the entire first five songs represent the band as the hottest, grittiest, and actually most intelligent metal rockers of 1981; unlike more straightforward metal rollers like Accept, Van Halen allow themselves a little pretense and a little development on here, and it all works. 'Mean Street' opens the procedures with a blast, almost as fine as 'The Cradle Will Rock', just without as much anthemic power, but heck, the riff here might even be better, as Eddie plays these funky chops with just about the coolest 'Eruption'-style guitar tone imaginable, and he also allows himself some stepping away from the rigid riff structure, with a little bit of syncopation here and a little bit of different phrasing there. He's not as good at stepping away from the basic melody without hurting the musical identity of the song as, say, Pete Townshend, but that's certainly a welcome break from, I dunno, the ass-kicking, but totally "pre-programmed" riffage of Judas Priest. Meanwhile, Dave goes wailing about the problems of the modern world just like your average punk rocker with a brain, and the dynamic duo make this an unforgettable experience altogether.

'Dirty Movies' takes Dave's carnal obsessions and channels them into social comment as well (which isn't that unusual, from what I observe, at least half of the references to prostitution/pornography/woman as a sexual exploitation object in general just stem from the lyrics writer's own sexual urges, you know) - and features another immaculate riff, too, as well as a cheesy singalong chorus and an unforgettable hook in Dave's hysteric 'GO SEE BABY NOOW!'. And 'Sinner's Swing' gets to business immediately, without any of Eddie's well-loved extended intros and stuff like that - just your basic leaden rock'n'roll with a fast tempo and finally some social comment-free lyrics because you know, Dave occasionally likes to get some without having to go with all that 'ironic' crap. You can perhaps sense the influence of Physical Graffiti on this particular song a bit harsher than you'd like to, but that's the problem with legacies.

Anyway, the social comment ain't done yet, because there's 'Hear About It', which is 'Main Street Vol. 2'. You may not remember the song once it's over, but it might just be the perfect embodiment of the Van Halen sound of the period. When Dave goes 'I don't wanna hear about it baby', it's everything you could ever have been looking for in a punk song (although the backing vocals are back and maybe that's a mistake). The mid-section reverts us to a strange, almost Byrds-like (well, okay, maybe Badfinger-like) jangly pop melody, but that's just for a few moments. For some reason, I'm particularly enamoured of the rhythm section on the track; it's hard to imagine a less inventive drummer than Alex Van Halen, but you get a feeling that his precise and very loud thump-thump-thumping on these songs just fits in perfectly with Eddie's jagged rhythms.

There's also 'Unchained' here, which is the song I mostly remember for Dave's antics; the guy is allowed to have fun here, and there's that great moment when he impersonates poking fun at an upper-class respectable gentleman until the guy in question responds (in an electronically encoded voice) 'okay Dave, give me a break', and Dave replies, 'hey hey hey, one break... coming uuuuuuuuuuup!'. I find this hilarious for some unexplainable reason.

The final four songs, not being bad, don't do all that much for me... I guess 'Push Comes To Shove' is a decent enough ballad, for some reason propped up with a disco bassline and an almost reggae riff at the same time, but Van Halen ballads aren't among the golden crop, you know, unless it's a sloppy drunken mess like 'Could This Be Magic'. However, 'So This Is Love' does little to distinguish itself from a myriad similar cock-rockers; the instrumental 'Sunday Afternoon In The Park' has Eddie explore synthesizers and nearing Rush territory with little success; and the closing 'One Foot Out The Door' has enough drive and energy but is over before two minutes are. So that's a bit of a flimsy conclusion for an album that started out on such a high note, but then again, I guess it wouldn't have worked if Eddie made every single song on here a clone of 'Hear About It' either. The fact remains that the first side of the album is the greatest Van Halen side of material ever, and the second side doesn't stink. Take this as a 'fair warning'.



Year Of Release: 1982

Yep, that's a four stars all right. Not too many people love this record - mainly because it always seems as if Eddie and Dave had suddenly split their act in two in the early Eighties, then expressed all the "serious" part of it on Fair Warning and then expressed all the "dumb" part of it on Diver Down. Heck, even the album title seems to be telling: it's a 'diver down', an obvious plunge into lightweight ditties, covers, Vegasy schlock and cock rock posturing. A toss-off chock full of filler at a time when the band was short on ideas, but still pressed by the record company or something.

Well, whaddaya know, I like the album a lot, and consider it a piece equally worthy to Fair Warning, only in its own department. There's great tragedy being written sometimes, and there's also great comedy, and I'm tired and sick of hearing the latter called the "lower genre". A good laugh is just as precious to me as a good tear, and a good "goof-off" is just as treasurable as an overdriven ball of anger or a terrific cathartic state. There, now that I've said it once and for all, Diver Down really cooks in the comedy department. This, goddammit, this, not Eddie's monster rifftunes, is the prime reason why Van Halen are actually better than any of their countless Eighties' poodle hair rip-offs. Can you imagine Motley Crue doing something like 'Big Bad Bill'? I sure can't. (And if, by any pure chance, they actually did, then they're much more deserving than I ever thought).

Almost half of this album is dedicated to covers, all of which are taken tongue-in-cheek and delivered in a fun, sloppy manner (this, of course, mostly refers to cool ol' Dave's vocals: Eddie's playing is always precise and meticulous). And all of which are fun! 'Where Have All The Good Times Gone' is the second time these guys address a Ray Davies tune, and while some people get offended at the band for taking all the grit out of the Kinks song - Diamond Dave sounds like a true tail-wagging idiot on that one - I don't mind in the least. Let them make fun of the song for as long as they want, as long as Eddie gets the riff straight and Diamond Dave sounds like a true tail-wagging idiot. I've always had a thing for tail-wagging idiots, me. It's the tail-wagging idiots that take themselves way too seriously, like that dude on lead vocals in Whitesnake, that irritate the hell out of me.

Have I offended everybody? Good. Let's notice, then, that the band's cover of Roy Orbison's 'Pretty Woman' is just as appropriate: as far as impeccable vocal delivery mockeries go, it's one of the unsurpassed ones. 'Dancing In The Street' is somewhat more questionable, because the band's deconstruction (read: mockery) of the Motown sound is nowhere near as visible or efficient. Besides, so many "basic" rock'n'roll bands had that one covered already that the joke's kinda lost on me. That's one mean wah-wah tone right there in my right speaker there, though, that Eddie employs.

However, when the band goes Vegas, it's a riot - 'Big Bad Bill' IS a throwaway, and a generic throwaway, and a song that probably drains the piss out of many an Eddie diehard, but it's not the fact of its existence that matters, it's the fact that it comes in between two typical Van Halen rockers like 'Little Guitars' and 'The Full Bug'. Here you have the hard-hittin' metal-blazin' guys kicking the shit out of everything, and now, whassup? 'And then Bill got himself a wife, now he leads a different life'? Jumping cabaret acoustic guitars? Cheesy brass? Yee-haw! Now we're talking! And by the way, Dave's vocal delivery on the track is one hundred percent authentic Vegas. How cool is that? And how is it possible not to have at least one muffled smile at the sound of the man going 'bom ba dee-da bom ba dee da' on the accappella version of 'Happy Trails'? The band's own 'Mother's Lament' to close out the album?

Tee hee. Then there are the originals, which aren't among the best songs Van Halen ever did, but they're not exactly trivial either. 'Hang 'Em High' is a tongue in cheek tune about a 'miscreant' which, to my ears, seems to parody Judas Priest and Motorhead at the same time. Mock-thrash, hah hah. 'Secrets' is a steady, not particularly attractive, mid-tempo blues-rocker which doesn't seem to parody anything, but there's something exciting about the way Dave breathes out 'she's got rhythm, got that rhythm' anyway. 'Little Guitars' takes that weird dry "chuckling" guitar sound that AC/DC pioneered on songs like 'Shoot To Thrill' or 'For Those About To Rock' and builds an entire song around it. And 'The Full Bug' gives a false impression of beginning like another 'Big Bad Bill' but then in the blink of an eye turns into another overdriven kick-ass punk-flavour rocker.

Besides, there's also the experimental guitar-ambient piece 'Cathedral' where Eddie plays his instrument through a synthesizer or something to get a tricky sound of the kind that King Crimson used to get out of their six-strings in the early Eighties. Stagnation? Nosiree! All these tracks display something - either creativity or a sense of humour and down-to-earth attitude. Yeah, none of them are classics to be treasured for eternity, but come on now, really, neither is any Van Halen song except for 'And The Cradle Will Rock' and a couple others. A great laugh. The band's Joke Album, if you wish. I take it! With both hands and both feet!


1984 ****1/2

Year Of Release: 1984

No, don't worry, 'tain't no pretentious concept album, unless Dave Lee Roth's endless goofy chasing after skirts counts, but come to think of it, the man always wears his dick on his sleeve - he just ties it up with a fancy rosy ribbon and covers it with cinnamon, which seriously distinguishes him from just about any other vintage cock rocker in existence. This is why Dave Lee Roth is a clown for the ages and Dave Coverdale is simply disgusting.

But I digress. It's the last Dave Lee Roth-led Van Halen album, and easily the best. Once again, one might complain about the shortness - barely over thirty minutes - but the shorter a Van Halen album is, the less filler it has, and this one has none. Well, okay, the title track might be considered filler. See, this is where Eddie gets into synthesizers on a serious level (so 1984 is always conveniently blamed for incorporating cheesy synths into cheesy hair metal, making it thrice cheesier and vomit-inducing - well whoever does that obviously never bothered to listen to Ozzy Osbourne's solo records, yeah, Don Airey's da king); in fact, his wanting to incorporate hi-tech keyboards into the band's regular sound was one of the reasons why he was bitching so much with the more conservative members of the band, creating additional friction that, other factors tied in, eventually led to Dave's departure. Eddie won anyway, even if the decision was kinda ambivalent - on one hand, you get this stuff like '1984', which is just a minute of 'heavenly' synths over which Eddie is making silly 'blooping' noises. Sounds like a six-year old kid whose mommy made him a suitable birthday present (unless you want to proudly state that Eddie was incorporating New Age influences into the music).

But on the other hand, it's just one minute, and it segues immediately into the band's Big Classic - the MTV-video-publicized 'Jump', which probably still leads many an innocent listener to believe that Van Halen were some sort of a post-disco synth-pop one-hit wonder. The simple synth melody is still extremely effective, maybe because you can easily detect it was written by a guitar player - I can easily visualize Eddie playing that riff on the guitar instead, and, of course, the vocal hooks, as Dave sings a decidedly optimistic tune (even if it is said to have been inspired by somebody actually taking a jump off a tall building), are wonderful. 'Might as well jump! - JUMP!' Together with the video, 'Jump' is probably one of those oh-so-tremendously-Eighties songs, like 'Billie Jean', which are dumb, tasteless, goofy, disgustingly decadent, and absolutely wonderful. Fuck traditional aesthetics.

Don't go round thinking it's all about the keyboards, though. The synths make a serious reappearance only once more on the record, in its single - and poignant - love ballad, 'I'll Wait', and they're quite effective on that one as well. And again, it's Mr Roth that totally makes the song; his love ode to a photo of a cover girl is so eccentrically detached and unpretentious you'll never want to take it seriously (not that the lyrics would allow you to do that - 'such good photography!') but you'll always want to sing along with it a little, just to show that you, too, can raise above those stupid notions of "love" and "true feeling" by mocking them in such an ingenious way... well, maybe not. Depends on how often you get laid.

The other six songs, though, are all gritty guitar rockers in the classic tradition; apparently, the band wasn't ready to let Eddie cheesify all the songs on here, and in those cases where real grit is needed, it's all about riffage and distortion, baby. 'Panama' rolls along with a catchy groove and a hot steamy cock-rockish atmosphere which will most certainly offend the light-hearted, but hardly any more than Twisted Sister. 'Top Jimmy' is an homage to an unknown blues hero, displaying some pretty subtle pickin' from ol' Eddie in the intro and in between the verses and another catchy chorus as these guys reach the top of their songwriting game. On 'Drop Dead Legs' they choose a steady mid-tempo groove with lengthy pauses between the riffs, kind of like on an AC/DC record - except that Van Halen never display even a half of the phoney "aggression/evil" of AC/DC. It's a pretty friendly tune. Alex Van Halen sure swings on that one. (Okay, that's a joke - everybody knows poor Alex swings about as effectively as a drunk polar bear, but maybe that's a good thing, because if he were a better drum player, he'd obviously try to diversify his styles, and for some reason that only way that he can play suits the band most).

What else? The classic moron anthem 'Hot For Teacher'? 'I brought my pencil'? One of the fastest Van Halen songs, no doubt about it, and yet another classic of the "trashy" genre, with Alex pounding away like a mule and Dave confessing his passion with a passion. 'Girl Gone Bad' escapes me a bit, I must say, but 'House Of Pain' certainly does not - a funk-metal classic whose main riff actually reworks Sabbath's 'Symptom Of The Universe', but to the extent where the band can't actually be sued for anything. So if you had any fear, with the opening '1984/Jump' sequence, that Van Halen were going to transform into a synth-driven outfit with an occasional metallic solo thrown in, abandon it - they go out with a bang, with a Fair Warning-style monster rocker that certainly does not scream "sellout!" at you. Even if it was a sellout, and if technically we can't blame Van Halen for all that sound, it certainly was the record that paved the way towards the success of all those monster hair metal bands, because it was then that everybody saw you could be dumb, moronic, and offensive and sell tons upon tons of records at the same time, not to mention getting laid. (Somehow the monster hair bands overlooked some other important elements - such as a need for good riffs, a sense of humour, and a real creative drive, but never mind, the public was ready to overlook them as well).


5150 ***

Year Of Release: 1986

Exit Dave Lee Roth, to begin a long and uneven solo career, enter Sammy Hagar. Everything bad you've heard about this guy is true and then some; about the only redeeming aspect I can find in his personality is that out of all the "notorious" metal singers, he at least holds second worst place as opposed to the inimitable Dave Coverdale. Where Roth had a special goofy tongue-in-cheek delivery that more or less predefined his charisma, Sammy seems to lack the brain to actually bother with such ridiculous concepts as "irony" or "looking at oneself from the outside". He just goes straight ahead and delivers. Delivers what? The standard two things necessary for every run-of-the-mill cock-rock band: dumb "ecstatic" power ballads that reach straight for, uh, heaven, man, and equally dumb "macho" sexist rockers next to which Mick Jagger looks like a choirboy.

Predictably, the power ballads annihilate the cock rockers and the cock rockers render meaningless the power ballads, so, as you would expect, nothing really works. From now on, Van Halen are basically a generic Eighties metal band, heavy on synth-based "embellishments" and absolutely non-outstanding among rows and rows and rows of other Eighties metal bands; more or less the same thing happened to Black Sabbath when Ozzy left and they became just a generic Goth metal band, not better or worse than dozens of others.

On the positive side, at least Sabbath's early efforts in their new avatar were listenable, and so is 5150. From what I've heard, a large chunk of the music on this album was actually written before Dave left, and you could argue that the joint creative vibes of Van Halen vs. Roth were still able to save some of the songs so that not even Sammy could spoil them rotten. Indeed, I think that had Dave sung on this album, with a couple exceptions it could have been the perfect follow-up to 1984 - but that's wishful thinking, I guess.

Of course, no Dave could save a song like 'Love Walks In', the most gruesomely atrocious piece of power ballad trash written by anybody in the Van Halen camp that far. Just put that song next to 'I'll Wait' and you see all the difference: in the Roth era, Van Halen were above penning "heartfelt" mushy Scorpions-style ballads, making their balladry much more grounded, realistic, even funny at times. With Hagar at the wheel, there now appears to be enough space for this kind of song that wouldn't be out of place - and indeed, whose brethren are often met - on albums by Poison, or Bon Jovi, or whoever. Luckily, it's the only TRUE low point (albeit really vomit-inducing), because the other two ballads are at least standable due to better fleshed-out melodies. Sammy's overdriven 'we'll get higher and higher...' screaming on the chorus of 'Dreams' really gets more and more intolerable the more you listen to it, like shoving poisonous snakes further and further up your nose, but at least there's a, uh, build-up or something. I appreciate some of the melodic moves. However, the only ballad that actually makes sense to me on here is 'Why Can't This Be Love' - despite the generic title, it's quite interesting in the way of arrangement, with a quirky "synthesized" guitar tone and cool funky rhythms that are actually memorable. And Sammy doesn't overscream on it!

There's also a bunch of decent rockers - I mean, if they at least managed one good ballad, they sure should have managed more convincing gritty numbers, and 'Get Up', for instance, is amazingly fast for Van Halen, almost punkish in stature (not sure if it's faster than 'Hot For Teacher', but looks so), with Alex pounding even harder than before, and features a complex stop-and-start structure that'll guarantee repeated listening. 'Best Of Both Worlds', if you manage to disregard the lyrics, has an even better chorus, and it's the kind of cock rocker I actually can stand, emphasizing the power and the energy rather than the size of one's thingy, if you know what I mean. And 'Inside' again returns us to the old trick of setting the song in the context of a staged (or non-staged?) drunken brawl, which works for me: the more things there are in a Hagar-era Van Halen song besides Hagar singing, the better it is.

So it's one of those records where the isolated parts are infinitely better than the whole, which is why I can still recommend it to some extent. And speaking of the "whole", I have to confess that Sammy's moronic 'hellloooo babyyyyyyy' which opens the album pretty much sets my attitude towards the entire Hagar period of the band. One of those "treacherous first steps", you see. Tasteless, disgusting, and dumb. Now the only question here is: were Eddie and co. actually aware of the fact that the whole image of the band would change one hundred and eighty degrees with the recruitment of Sammy? If they were, was this a special "commercial" move on their part or didn't they just give a damn? And if they were not, did they share even less potential to think rationally than Mr Hagar? Okay, that was actually three questions, but at least I refrained from making wild guesses as answers. I don't wanna offend nobody, see.


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