amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)

REVIEW: David Lee Roth – A Little Ain’t Enough (1991)

DAVID LEE ROTH – A Little Ain’t Enough (1991, Warner, digipack promo CD version)

First Billy Sheehan was gone – fired by the “note police”.  Then Steve Vai was out, to join David Coverdale in his merry international band of Whitesnake, replacing Vivian Campbell.  David Lee Roth lost his two biggest guns in the space of a year.  What next?  Replacing Billy was Matt Bissonette, brother of drummer Gregg.  Matt is a fantastic bassist, but there is only one Billy Sheehan, so naturally the band was bound to sound different.  Replacing Steve Vai was much harder.

Filling the guitar slot, but not the shoes, was new young guitar prodigy Jason Becker (from Cacophony, with Marty Friedman), and veteran axeman Steve Hunter (ex-Alice Cooper).  Becker was beginning to feel the effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).  Fans must have known something was wrong when Becker was not seen on tour.  Becker kept his diagnosis private for the time being. Roth tapped Joe Holmes (future Ozzy guitarist) and stated that he needed musicians who could “fly” on stage.  It was hard for fans to become attached to his new band, even wielding the firepower of two guitarists, with all these changes.

Roth’s first post-Vai album, A Little Ain’t Enough, failed to ascend the commercial heights of Eat ‘Em and Smile or Skyscraper.  “Good”, but not “great”.  Not enough of that Dave “charasma”.  Just a collection of songs, not a fierce sexed up power-packed ride through.  Roth hooked up with producer-du-jour Bob Rock at Little Mountain studios.  Rock endowed Roth with a generic sound, contrasting the high-tech Skyscraper.  Dave seemed to be trying to take a step back towards his Van Halen roots.  Roth insisted that he and his band stay in the shittiest Vancouver hotel they could find.  Prostitutes, dealers, criminals, the works.  He wanted a dirty rock album and you can’t make one of those with a $20 room service hamburger in your stomach, as per the method of Diamond Dave.

A Little Ain’t Enough wasn’t the return to dirty raw rock Roth that had hyped.

Lead single “A Lil’ Ain’t Enough” was plenty of fun, a top notch Roth party song.  “Was vaccinated with a phonograph needle one summer break, then I kissed her on her daddy’s boat and shot across the lake.”  Perfect for summer.  Second track “Shoot It” was just as fun, a big horn section delivering all the big hooks.

The one-two punch of those openers was slowed by following them with “Lady Luck”, a rock blues track written by Dio’s Craig Goldy.  Good song, but the firepower and excitement of the previous two was missing.  “Hammerhead Shark”, the fourth track, had more energy but not the killer hooks.  What it does have is some killer shredding by the guitar duo of Hunter and Becker, with Hunter on the slide and Becker on the quick pickin’.  “Tell the Truth” is another blues, slower this time, and was also released as an instrumental remix with dialogue (from a movie?) dubbed over.  Side one closed with a real Van Halen-like corker called “Baby’s On Fire”.  As the title suggests, it’s red-hot and loaded with smoking playing.

Side two is a mixed bag.  “40 Below” is a fun track, with shades of Halen but more focused on bluesy guitars.  “Sensible Shoes” was a single, a slinky blues that appealed to some that normally wouldn’t buy a David Lee Roth album.  The slide guitar is the main feature.  “Last Call” is another one reminiscent of classic Van Halen, and “Dogtown Shuffle” dips back into noctural blues rock. Good songs – not great, but good.

Jason Becker only contributed two of his own songs to the album:  the final two, “It’s Showtime!” and “Drop in the Bucket”.  These happen to be two of the best tracks.  “It’s Showtime!” is 100% pure Van Halen, smoking down the highway, so try to keep up.  It’s the kind of high speed rock shuffle that they invented and mastered.  Meanwhile “Drop in the Bucket” serves as a cool, smooth ending to the album.  Its impressive guitar work is only a glimpse at what Becker was capable of.

ALS be damned, Jason Becker refused to go down without a fight.  As the disease took his voice and his hands, he began composing music on a computer.  He uses a system that tracks his eye movements, much like Steven Hawking.  This way, Becker has managed to stay active musically and has inspired thousands with his efforts.

It’s a shame that Becker’s only album with David Lee Roth was a bit middle of the road.  It wasn’t the full shred of early Roth, nor as diverse as Dave can get.  In his efforts to make a straight ahead rock album, Dave shed some of what makes his music special.  The musical thrills are lessened on what is probably the most “ordinary” album in his catalog.

3.5/5 stars

 

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