REVIEW: Van Halen – For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991)

VAN HALEN – For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991 Warner Bros.)

What a frustrating experience this album was for me.  This was supposed “the one”; the album that would please the DLR fans and finally unite Van Halen fandom.  Heavier with only one ballad, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge was to be a statement.  Edward Van Halen had said that neither 5150 nor OU812 were ever properly finished to his liking.  In both cases, the band were under pressure to get out there and tour (OU812 because of the 1988 Monsters of Rock).  F.U.C.K. was to be the album that he finally got to spend time on and properly finish.  It was also Eddie’s first album using his new Ernie Ball guitars.   I expected my brain to be blown.

And it was, or it was by the first single at least.  “Poundcake” lived up to the promise.  Sure, lyrically it was…well, pretty stoopid, but musically?  Van Halen had some balls back!  This motherfucker grooves like a slow train.  As far as guitar tricks went, Eddie went all out with harmonics, taps, and…drills?  The shimmery guitars were subtly different from Eddie’s classic “brown sound”, but a guitar sound is an ever-evolving quest.  On this song, his rhythm guitar tones recall his friend, Brian May.  With “Poundcake” as a first single, I couldn’t wait to hear the whole album.

MuchMusic came close to banning this video

I was given the CD (same copy I still have) on my birthday in ’91, by childhood friend Bob.  I still remember popping the CD in for the first time that afternoon.  Then a few days later it was given to me again (this time on cassette) by my Aunt and Uncle!

Momentum is maintained on the second track, “Judgement Day”, heavier than the first.  The riff is anchored by a whammy bar trick, and it’s tasty.  I cannot find fault with “Judgement Day”.  This is what I wanted and hoped for from the new Van Halen album.  The groove is still there, Alex and Mikey gelling in a relentless way.  Sonically, both guys are recorded better than ever.  The bass and drums on For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge are really something to behold.

Then, things slide.  The awful “Spanked” is the worst song on the album, and possible contender for worst Van Hagar song yet.  “All you bad bad boys, call her up on the spank line,” sings Sammy with a straight face.  The sad thing is, the song would have been a fine instrumental, or basis for something with David Lee Roth.  Sammy ruins it with shitty lyrics and a shitty melody.  Too bad.  “Runaround” is a good song on first and second listen, but you tire of it quickly.  It’s bland, as is much of F.U.C.K.  The problem with “going heavy” for an album is the risk of losing diversity and texture.

The 7-minute “Pleasure Dome” can barely be called a song.  Organized chaos with some lead vocals, yes.  But it’s barely a song.  There are moments of brilliance contained within (the drums in particular) but it’s not particularly worthy.  And this was the side closer.

VHFCK_0002

As crappy as “Spanked” is, “In ‘N’ Out” is virtually a carbon copy.  It has some sparkling guitars to go with it, but like “Spanked”, the song sucks.  I can’t believe somebody didn’t say, “Guys, let’s cut the album down to 9 tracks like we used to do, and leave those two for B-sides”.   “Man On a Mission” isn’t much improved.  Just dull rock with dumb lyrics.  Totally uninspired.  It’s just four guys playing music without much direction other than, “turn it up!”

Things change up a little bit on “The Dream is Over”.  This also-ran isn’t a bad tune, though nowhere near single quality for Van Halen.  It’s at least a step in the right direction.  It feels as if the album was in a slumber, and it has now woken up — the title is apt.  And thankfully Sammy isn’t singing about girl parts for a change.

Van Halen didn’t consider “Right Now” to be a ballad, but it’s the only song with a keyboard.  It’s a welcome oasis in the desert of monotonous rock.  It’s a great song.  I don’t think anyone can say that it hasn’t been played to death, so I don’t need to comment further.  MTV awards, Pepsi, blah blah blah.

Nice suit.

“316” (named for Wolfy’s birthday 3/16/1991) is an acoustic guitar part that Eddie had been playing live for years.  Later, Eddie used to play this piece for Wolfgang while still in the womb.  But it’s just a brief 90 second instrumental, a segue into “Top of the World”, also a single.  It took a while for me to recognize the riff.  In fact, I didn’t pick up on it until I heard this song following “Jump” on the album LIVE: Right here, right now.   Only then did I realize:  it’s based on the outro riff from “Jump”!  So they re-used that oft-forgotten riff and built a new song around it.  It’s a good song, very pop rock, but a suitable album closer.

As high as this album charted (US #1), I’m convinced For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge is one of the albums responsible for the death of hard rock in 1991.  Sure, a lot of people bought it.  But a lot of people also didn’t like it very much.  Maybe they were getting tired of the schtick, but I do know I found it really hard to proudly blast this album out of the car.

2.8/5 stars

Advertisements

50 comments

      1. Good Enough is another personal fave too – i find it speaks very deeply to me about the very essence of what it is to be alive today – that Leonard Cohen fella should have a listen, learn a trick or two.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yeah exactly…I had to be tough but fair on it because some really do like this best of all the Van Hagar albums. (Weirdos, they call those people.)

          But I spend a lot of time on it and sent it to Fee for his notes just to make sure I was on target.

          Like

        2. I saw that. Fairly tempting… especially since Vic Johnson is involved and those guys are great together. The only gripe is that most of those songs were acoustic already, weren’t they? So it seems a bit pointless.

          Like

  1. I have this record and actually rather enjoy it. I know it isn’t Van Halen but Van Hagar (see conversation between Mike and Scott, above) but for all that it’s actually quite fun to listen to. I think the secret is to play it fucking LOUD. The whole album sounds like it was recorded with the speakers pushing air, so if you’ve got your stereo cranked, it gives it a live feel.

    You’re also right that it has limitations and some pretty dumb-ass lyrics, here and there. But in the wide world of record-making, few are perfect. I find myself able to overlook most of the dumb-assery on this one.

    For those of a like mind, this record is also a great one in the iPod when you’re out for a run. It’s got that ‘lift’ to it, the one you want when you’re burning up the KMs, and it’s heavy and fast enough to hold your attention. Plus, songs like Right Now and Top Of The World are motivational! Great workout disc.

    Another excellent review, Mike. I’d rate this one a bit higher than you did, but I get all your reasons.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks man!

      I dunno about the volume thing. I’ve certainly played it loud. I remember getting it…folks weren’t home…I made the windows shake!

      But I love the split comments so it’s clear there’s something here that appeals to fans.

      Like

  2. I had a similar reaction to this album after a recent dust-off of the disc. I would definitely choose the first two Van Hagar albums over this one…F.U.C.K. just hasn’t aged well and I don’t really know why. The formula was just “tired” by then, I suppose. Don’t get me wrong…I LOVED this album on release, but I was also 16 and in a very different place in regard to my musical pedigree. Hahaha!
    I saw the band 5 times during that era and consider(ed) myself a big fan of the band. With that said, there are still a couple of keepers on this album mixed in with the turds. Poundcake, and pretty much all of Side 2 (I grew up with the cassette first, lol!) work for me. However, I would place Pleasure Dome as the worst Van Hagar song up to that point…by a mile!
    Good write-up…and amusing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Robert thanks for stopping by! I’m glad you liked the review.

      I was only 19 when I got this, just turned 19 that very day. I too was in a very different place musically. I think it’s possible my favorite Van Hagar album is the only one I have not reviewed: OU812.

      Like

  3. Yeah man the bass on here like Aaron is aweful. The songs for the most part are good except for fruit cake toons like Spanked and Poundcake the music is good but Sam has always had a thingy for big dumb goofy lyrics but that’s who he is,Sam I Am!
    Ha…but yeah in 91… I liked this one immensely but in 2014 I lean towards another Hagar/Halen album but I ain’t saying till my Sonic Wave deal..how’s that for a self plug!
    But still I would plunk this a little higher Mikey than what U gave it but fair enuff…

    Like

    1. Haha I didn’t say anything about the bass being bad! I just think it’s loud enough you could really let ‘er rip. Hockey pool, huh? Cool. I’ve never done one of those. Of course, I probably wouldn’t know most of the players now, anyway. Any players I’d know that are still playing now would be old farts on the last tours bu now…

      Like

      1. I actually like the bass on this album. No it’s not the old jazzy basslines Mikey used to play, but they sure created a groove. Just simple one-note basslines with the odd high note thrown in: I call it the Rick Savage Method.

        Like

  4. Wow, I’m late to this party…sorry had a busy day…
    I like Poundcake! Great song. “Call her up on the spank line”??! That’s just terrible! Then again, here we have spank line and poundcake on the same album. I LOL, then verp a little with the lyrics. Kind of funny – kind of gross.

    Like

  5. Im with Scott I liked this album…then again I NEVER listen to lyrics. I just found out a few years ago Zeppelin were using LOTR crap…. I agree this album is heavier and should be instrumental…much like DKOT It is also the first VH album that had any balls in the actual production/recorded sound. That said this album has disappeared on my twice and I haven’t listened to it forever….Gimme Fair Warning anyday!

    Like

  6. Hey, revisiting Popoff and Ladano reviews over the Christmas break ;)

    Wasn’t so taken by this record either back when, even first single lead track lacking in their usual magic stakes and F.U.C.K. still ranks behind 5150 and OU812 fer these ears but, having said that this is still a great listen!

    For the mostpart an easy listen (perhaps that was the problem?), yet some material, tunes such as Judgement Day and This Dream Is Over and Right Now deliver overstuffed bags of classic Van Hagar magic. And whenever things do cruise somewhat safe Ed offers dynamite so regardless this record’s slight dip in uniqueness fer these ears, F.U.C.K. has its place and represents both the fun and swagger of each the Van Halen eras, capturing the early 90’s to perfection.

    Would still rate this a 3.5 perhaps even a whopping 4/5 when the sun is out cruising windows down blasting at full volume. No matter its issues this record has aged well and still stands up, maybe even moreso now than it did ack when!?

    2c and some Christmas change ☺

    Like

Rock a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s