VAN HALEN (Not Van Hagar!) Part 6: Intruder
My latest series of reviews at mikeladano.com is an in-depth look at all the classic VAN HALEN albums, with David Lee Roth. Dig in!
Part 1: The Early Years (Zero – 1977)
Part 2: On Fire (Van Halen – 1978)
Part 3: Somebody Get Me A Doctor (Van Halen II – 1979)
Part 4: Everybody Wants Some!! (Women and Children First – 1980)
Part 5: Push Comes to Shove (Fair Warning – 1981)
VAN HALEN – Diver Down (1982 Warner)
Of all the classic Van Halen discs in the canon, I find Diver Down hardest to review. After the pugnaciously perfect Fair Warning, the band really started battling over direction. Deciding to try for some hits rather than continue experimenting musically, Van Halen turned in the 31 minute Diver Down, a collection of covers, instrumentals and joke tunes with only a couple of serious rockers. Yet every time I listen to it, don’t I absolutely enjoy Diver Down?
To my ears, Diver Down sounds like an intentional return to the party rock sounds that launched Van Halen in the first place. It certainly does not sound like an album that should follow Fair Warning. Now, we’re back into covers: The Kinks’ “Where Have All the Good Times Gone!” opens the record. Eddie pointed out that the song and album are loaded with errors. He misses some harmonics in “Where Have All the Good Times Gone!”…and it’s fucking perfect. There’s nothing wrong with Van Halen showing up to play a drunken party again in the old neighborhood, is there? Even if they’re the big kids now?
“Hang ‘Em High” was an older song that the band exhumed for Diver Down. It immediately evokes the heavier material from some of the earlier records. Only now, Van Halen had learned to work in a recording studio and were taking advantage of some of the tricks they had picked up over the years. Eddie’s extended solo sounds spontaneous and live.
“Cathedral” is a trick of guitar volume swells. By physically manipulating the volume knob on his guitar, Eddie created a sound that reminded him of a church organ. Tonally it resembles where Van Halen would go on the next album. This is just an intro (a beautiful one at that) to “Secrets”, a laid-back original. “Secrets” has vibe, and this is as good a time as any to point out the ace rhythm section of Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony. These guys were a big part of the overall Van Halen sound.
By 1982, David Lee Roth was starting to become interested in the new medium that was music video. He directed the concept video for “(Oh) Pretty Woman”, a Roy Orbison cover. Dave’s classic ingredients were all there: a cavalcade of characters, little people, and a joke-a-minute style of cool. The video however ran too long once edited together. The song was not even three minutes long, and Dave didn’t want to make further cuts. Instead he played synthesizer, while Eddie made guitar noises with a beer can on the neck, and they called that “Intruder”.
“Pretty Woman” features the biggest mistake on the entire album (which is just loaded with ’em, just listen). Where Roy Orbison sang this:
“‘Cause I need you, I’ll treat you right,”
Come with me baby, be mine tonight.”
Roth unwittingly sang just this:
“‘Cause I need you, need you tonight…”
Side Two commenced with yet another cover. David Lee Roth really wanted to do “Dancing in the Street”, but Eddie wasn’t into it. Eddie already had a unique synthesizer part he was working on for his own song, and Roth suggested they use it for “Dancing in the Street”, which they did. If there was one song I’d skip on Diver Down, it would be this one. It does get a fair bit of radio play, though.
“Little Guitars” (and the intro that precedes it) is a bonafide Van Halen classic. Eddie was intrigued by flamenco guitar but couldn’t get the fingerpicking. Instead he used his own tricks (and a pick) to make it sound similar to what the flamenco players were doing. The song itself is a sassy mid-tempo rocker with a shiny melody. Once again the classic ‘Halen harmonies are to thank.
There are two schools of thought on “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)”. One is that it’s a joke cover tune that shouldn’t have been on an album. Another is that while the song is humorous, it is also very special. This is a song from 1924 that Roth had discovered on the radio. Then, Dave suggested that they invite Jan Van Halen, the father of Eddie and Alex, into the studio to play clarinet. I get chills up my spine listening to Jan’s lyrical playing. Alex is playing with brushes, the others are on acoustics, and Dave is absolutely at home. This song is quintessential Dave Lee Roth, and conjures up that ol’ timey Al Jolson sound.
Dave plays the acoustic intro to “The Full Bug”, and then Eddie kicks in with that riff. Alex and Michael create that classic Van Halen shuffle as the band careens to the end of the record. Roth throws down a ballsy harmonica. This track could also be considered a bonafide Van Halen keeper.
Concluding with “Happy Trails” is only logical. The boys sound absolutely blitzed as they drunkenly sing acappella, before they all crack up at the end. Diver Down, undoubtedly a party rock album, is over.
While Diver Down is still fun to listen to, it seems like a blip in the overall Van Halen trajectory. It’s clear that it is not as innovative as some albums previous, nor does it rock as heavy. Yet, it’s likable. It still sounds great in the summertime. As Craig Fee pointed out, “I still think DLR’s version of ‘Where Have All The Good Times Gone?’ is way better than the original. For every shitty cover (‘(Oh) Pretty Woman’ comes to mind), you have original gems like ‘Little Guitars’ to make up for it.”
But how the hell do I rate it?
4/5 stars (?)