Review by special request of reader Wardy!
Those who were displeased with 1986’s 5150 album were optimistic about the next Van Halen. “I heard it’s supposed to be heavier like old Van Halen,” were the whispers in the highschool halls. “More like the stuff with David Lee Roth.” Even though Van Hagar plotted their own course with tremendous success, there were and always will be factions that prefer Diamond Dave. It is all but impossible to review a Van Hagar CD without asking, “is it as good as the classic records?”
I like OU812, a lot. It’s probably my favourite Van Hagar album and I’ve liked it since it came out. It is a little harder than 5150, and it does sport old school Van Halen shuffles like some from the days of old. I would often argue that where Sammy Hagar fumbled in Van Halen is in the lyrical department. But few of his lyrics on OU812 outright suck, and some are pretty cool. Eddie’s guitar tone was beefier than it was on 5150. Most importantly, the band were all fired up and still writing great rock songs and ballads.
Keyboards remained on the new album, as heard on opener “Mine All Mine”. The context now was a harder rock song, and they work effectively. Hagar turns in a surprisingly penetrative lyric regarding religion and self reliance. “You got Allah in the East, Jesus in the West — Christ, what’s a man to do?” sings Sammy, never one to mince his words. The breakneck track serves as an excellent starter for the new Van Halen.
“When It’s Love” kills the momentum momentarily. It was a huge hit and also happened to be Van Halen’s first actual “music video” since David Lee Roth quit the band years before. As far as ballads go, it’s edgier than “Love Walks In” or “Dreams”, although I don’t think it’s as good as either of those. Thankfully the boys chase this with the weird-titled “A.F.U. (Naturally Wired)”. This blazingly fast Van Halen shuffle isn’t too dissimilar from the style of song the band used to do with Dave. Eddie, of course, knocks everybody down with his impossible licks. Meanwhile, drummer Alex Van Halen gleefully enjoys the odd beats and searing tempo.
One of the best Van Hagar songs of all time closed side one, and it’s the song that loaned its name to an award-winning tequila: “Cabo Wabo”. A laid back summer classic, I challenge even the most cynical fan to not tap their toes during “Cabo Wabo”. Hell, feel free to air-drum along. Eddie lays down some juicy chords in that trademark brown sound.
“Source of Infection”, side two’s opening song, is barely a song at all. I have always been convinced that Sammy ran out of time and didn’t have any lyrics written for this song so he just went in and sang stuff. We know that Van Halen were indeed rushed in the studio. I think “Source of Infection” is evidence of that, as there are barely any words to it.
(Movin’ up and down) Up ‘n down
(Round and round) Oh, round and round
(Movin’ up and down) In ‘n out
(Round and round) Yeow!
Crank it! Blow out!
Now flip on over
Oh baby, you know that I like it
(Woop! Woop! Woop!)
I think I’ve made my point.
It’s actually a smoking track, one of the heaviest Van Hagar blazers ever recorded, but to call it a “song” would be too generous and misleading.
I’ve been on record here for trashing Van Hagar ballads in the past, but I really like “Feels So Good”! It’s the bright upbeat one. Eddie’s keyboard sound on it is unique. You have to give Eddie credit as a keyboardist, because that is so overshadowed by his guitar playing. Eddie has always manufactured cool keyboard hooks, and accompanied them with an identifiably unique keyboard tone. “Feels So Good” continues that tradition. Top that with an Eddie solo complete with two-handed tapping and tricks, and you have a flawless Van Hagar pop rock track.
The country-flavoured “Finish What Ya Started” is one of the best top 40 hits about blue balls that I can think of. I suffered from a high level of burnout from this track in ’88-’89, due to its saturation on radio and MuchMusic, but you can certainly hear why radio went for it. The blue balls theme probably went right over their heads, and it’s accessible with plenty of incredible guitar hooks. You just don’t hear Eddie playing like this often. I also have to praise Alex’s snare drum sound here, so full and authentic.
“Black and Blue” was actually the first single, although no video was made for it. It’s a slower Van Halen blues groove, but I don’t think it holds up particularly well after repeated listens. (I caught hell for playing this album at work once, because Sammy sings “Bitch sure got the rhythm,” on this song.) And unfortunately I don’t think “Sucker in a 3 Piece” is particularly awesome either. It’s probably the weakest track on the album, although I remember one kid at school thought it was the best one, so there you go! “Only Eddie Van Halen could come up with ‘Sucker in a 3 Piece’,” he praised. I don’t see what his fuss was all about.
There was a CD bonus track on this, a rare novelty back in 1988. I already had “A Apolitical Blues” on the flipside of the “Black and Blue” single. For the first time since Diver Down, a cover (Little Feat) on a Van Halen album! Granted, only on the CD version, but still. On MuchMusic, Eddie explained how this song was recorded about as low-tech as you can get: four guys, two microphones, one room. It sounded great on that scratchy old 45, but it’s not as memorable as a Van Halen cover can be.
Interesting and sometimes annoying factoids about the albums:
1. No producer is listed anywhere in the credits. There is only “Recorded by Donn Landee”.
2. The tracks are irritatingly and purposely listed in the wrong order on the back cover, and in the lyric book. They are alphabetical. Who does that anymore?
Final note: A rare 3″ CD single with a remix of “Finish What Ya Started” and the album version of “Sucker in a 3 Piece” found its way into our store. It came in with no packaging, so I bought it and stuck it in with my CD of OU812 as “disc 2” in a 2 CD case. The remix version is notable for not being audibly different from the album version in any detectable way!