Yes, that’s Van Halen. Not to be confused with the Van Hagar version of the band that clogged the 90’s with prom themes and mediocrity but the real deal.: The full-throttle, David Lee Roth led sonic explosion that fans have been waiting for since 1984. For the first time in 28 years (save a couple of throwaway tracks on a compilation) Eddie and Alex Van Halen have managed to get along with Roth long enough to produce a staggering return to form. It is a throwback to their classic sound and swagger and a welcome respite from a lot of generic pop tarts and emo bands currently on the airwaves. But is it any good? Departed vocalist Sammy Hagar, in his autobiography, painted Eddie Van Halen as a cash-strapped drunk who could barely stand, never mind play. So is this just a calculated cash-grab by the brothers VH or simply a bunch of old friends re-discovering their love of basic, balls-to-the-wall heavy rock? Let’s check the Scorecard:
The Pros: It sounds like Classic Van Halen! The pounding drums, the endless riff-age and DLR’s yelping vocals are all in place. Eddie’s son Wolfie seamlessly fills the bass shoes of Michael Anthony (who went off with Hagar to form Chickenfoot) and it doesn’t seem like the band has missed a beat in the 3+ decades since their formation, subsequent squabbling and unlikely resurrection.
The Cons: It sounds like classic Van Halen. Fans will recognize at least 50% of this album from widely circulated demos the band made in 1976/77 previous to the release of their official debut in 1978….and if these songs weren’t good enough for Van Halen then…why are they good enough now? Even the songs that are “new” still seem like they are trying very hard to be from their heyday (‘Blood and Fire’ sounds like Little Guitars….’Keep Frosty’ is basically Ice Cream Man Part II, the vibe of ‘As is’ is very Hot for Teacheresque etc.). Eddie the Guitar Hero is very much in attendance as well as his famous “brown sound”. But even as he dispels the doubt casted by Hagar’s book by shredding up a storm, there’s little here that is still innovative. The runs and riffs are the same ones we’ve heard from him dozens of times before. One notable exception is ‘honeybabysweetiedoll’ which steals it’s main theme from Rainbow’s “Gates of Babylon”, but at least it’s a new sound for VH.
The Verdict: It Sounds like Classic Van Halen! That pretty much out-weighs everything. To hear these guys sound like this again is a treat for the ears and a chance to put the FUN back into music. And while no one gets to change rock history for a second time, Van Halen still can deliver goods that should be blasting out of a boom box on a beach near you this summer.
Special thanks to guest contributor Michael Raleigh for this review.