eddie van halen

GUEST REVIEW: Van Halen – Balance (Derek Kortepeter vs. LeBrain)

VAN HALEN – Balance (1995 Warner)

By Derek Kortepeter

I was perusing Mike’s blog like I sometimes do (what can I say, I’m a fan). I stumbled upon his review for a Van Halen record that means a lot to me, and frankly, is the one I love the most among all of the Hagar years AND Roth years. I was really surprised with just how harsh Mike was on what I’ve always regarded as the pinnacle of Van Halen’s creativity and musicality.

After discussing it with Mike, I decided to write somewhat of a rebuttal to his 3.75/5 review.  I plan to try to explain why this record means so much to me as a Van Halen fan and professional composer/musician. I will quote from the original review to make this sort of sound like a discussion rather than me just being a dick and touting my opinion as better. If anything, I just want detractors of this record to give it another view and possibly a second chance.

Ready? Let’s go!


Balance takes Van Halen into a highly polished, commercial direction. This is “balanced” with heavier grooves and a couple more “serious” lyrics.   The result turned out to be one of Van Halen’s most pop outings.

Right off the bat I will disagree with you Mike. I argue that this is Van Halen’s most EXPERIMENTAL outing since Fair Warning. The melodic phrasing and song structures on some of these songs are incredibly progressive, and additionally, I believe that there are enough instrumental pieces that push what people’s perception of the band could be.

As for the polish, that isn’t a negative, the band has never sounded better. The way Alex tuned his drums is brilliant and crisp, Eddie’s tone never sounded more varied (at least until Van Halen III), and the band sounded incredibly tight and focused (Mike’s bass in particular is fucking blistering). The record being heavy is 100 percent a positive as well, as this applies not only to the slamming instrumental but also the lyrical content.

This is hard rock, metal, and avant-garde with pop overtones. Not pop.

This is “The Seventh Seal”, and Sammy’s voice is in top form. Michael Anthony’s bass rolls and hits the notes at just the right moments. This is truly a great song, completely different from Van Halen of old, but surely a triumph.

No argument from me here. The Buddhist monks chanting in their low vocal register leading into Sammy’s fever dream about the End Times as described in the book of Revelation is a beckoning call to fans that Van Halen is in its most mature incarnation. Balance is established right off the bat as a theme involving spirituality, but that isn’t the only type of Balance pursued in the record. I see many of these songs as mirrors of one another, focusing in on a true sense of balance. I will extrapolate on this as I go on.

“Can’t Stop Loving You”, is an embarrassing foray into pop. While Van Halen wrote pop stuff before (“Love Walks In”), this song lacks cojones of any kind. The guitar is really thin, Alex Van Halen cha-cha’s his way through the drum fills, while Sammy sings a lyric that David Lee Roth would have used to wipe his ass.

Hoo boy. As I have already stated, I think the production on Balance is brilliant so we won’t retread that issue here. I always found this song to be sad, to me it is about the kind of longsuffering love that only couples who have been together for decades will understand. It shows an evolution in Van Halen’s views on love, which before were often juvenile in the sense that it was more about the start of the relationship before things get hard. The theme of commitment never really factored into the equation until this track, just the hormones in your body exploding when love is raw and new to you. David Lee Roth could never have come up with something like this, ever.

“Don’t Tell Me (What Love Can Do)” is anything but a love song. Sammy tackles drugs, faith, youth in crisis, and the 1990’s. Hagar has never sounded more foreboding, or mature for that matter. Eddie’s riff is simple, but dark and rhythmic. Michael locks onto the riff, creating this unstoppable wall of groove.

We agree here, this song is fucking genius in its execution and is the closest to metal Van Halen get until they write “Humans Being” a little later. Also here is where we begin to see the theme of Balance, which I argue permeates the record, take shape. The prior track is about a fulfilling love, this track is about the absence of love and how the dejected react in situations of pure despair. Pay attention, pretty much every song on the record has a directly opposing relationship to the song that it follows.

There is nothing wrong with this mid-tempo rocker (“Amsterdam”) with spare Eddie riff, except the lyrics.

Look the lyrics are in a party song, which as I recall, are not required to be Shakespeare. Do you really think that any DLR era gems known for partying like “Take Your Whiskey Home” are any more profound? Lyrics aside, this song is setting up another element of Balance by exploring sins of the flesh and addictive behaviors that can be found in so many cities. It is about losing control and giving into your desires, especially in this case with regards to alcohol and drugs. This is one part of the Balance equation, as the next track deals with sins of a different kind. Greed.

I’ll give VH a C for trying, but “Big Fat Money” is a C+ at best.

“Big Fat Money” is a raucous psychobilly freakout of a song. Every member of the band loses their fucking mind by giving all their energy into this burner of a track. Sammy shreds his vocal chords as he rapid-fires phrases, Eddie brings up-tempo blues and ragtime sounds to the forefront, Alex plays double-time almost punk rock beats, and Michael Anthony just slays you with his furious basslines. Furthermore, the element of Balance in relation to the prior track is the other most focused-upon sin in society (Greed). The song shows the destructive nature in a way, however, as you feel like the lyrics hint at somebody losing their mind to their desires that began in Amsterdam and continued to spiral downwards into pure insanity. The balance is the lure of desire and then the destructive after-effects of such desire.

“Strung Out” is a jokey opener to the ballad “Not Enough”.

I look at this track as an example of “chance music.” Much like the music of John Cage and other contemporaries of his, the aleatoric nature of “Strung Out” is based on numerous factors. It is essentially Eddie fucking around with piano strings, but it isn’t a joke in my opinion. If anything, it shows Van Halen willing to ask their listeners what music is, and more importantly, what they should define Van Halen as. It is in every way an experimental, not pop, foray into a new direction.

That fades into “Not Enough”, another ballad… Tunes like this made Van Halen seem completely out of touch with what was happening in the 1990s. Within months of its release, Shannon Hoon would overdose, Layne Staley locked into a dance of death with smack, and Richey Edwards of the Manic Street Preachers went missing (presumed dead) after suffering long bouts of depression.

OK, a lot to unpack here. “Not Enough” isn’t a conventional ballad at all. It is about love and, more importantly, the loss of love. It doesn’t show a band out of touch at all, if anything, it shows that they are more in tune than ever. “Not Enough” is about the heart wrenching aspect of loss of someone you love. Period. The music video is somber and yet it also gives you hope. Eddie’s chorus-washed solo is a work of genius and as a whole the song remains the most mature expression of love and loss that I can possibly find in their catalogue.

As for the mentions of Layne Staley and Richey Edwards, I feel that I must interject that Alice In Chains and Manic Street Preachers are two incredibly important bands in my life. Layne spoke to my pain as a longtime sufferer of mental disorders and Richey looked at the world in the same cynical way that I do (plus as a Welsh-American, the Manics are a part of my culture and thus very important on another level to me). This is frankly a low-blow to the album that is unwarranted and patently false.

 “Aftershock” is another hard rocker, nothing embarrassing here, good riff, good melody, good song. 

As a drummer this is one of my all-time favorite songs to jam to. The entire song just blows the roof off of everything in its vicinity and remains a testament to just how hard Van Halen can rock. It also, however, brings in that same element of Balance that I speak of. “Not Enough” is about the raw and compassionate feelings of loss, namely in a relationship, but Aftershock is about the rage and bitterness that is likely to follow in the grieving process of a relationship. Both essential. Both a part of Balance.

A pair of instrumentals follow, an interesting touch seeing as Van Halen didn’t do too many instrumentals post-Dave. “Doin’ Time” is Alex messing around on the drums, which segues straight into “Baluchitherium”. 

These two songs are another part of me arguing about the experimental nature of this record. To devote so much time to instrumentals, especially the way they are structured here, is to push the band out of the Billboard 100 arena and into the “thinking” arena. The band is showing they are incredibly versatile and willing to take risks. Furthermore, guitar and drums are naturally instruments needed in order to balance out the equation of a rock band. Taken a step further, the instruments are played by brothers who are in many ways needed in their personal and professional lives to achieve balance.

Nothing on this record is haphazardly added.

“Take Me Back (Deja Vu)” is a pop song that I don’t mind at all, accented with acoustic guitar. 

It’s a brilliant song with brilliant instrumentation and vocals from Sammy. Also, it fits into the balance equation as it is about longing for better times. The reminiscing for the good times is here because the next track is all about the ugly of the present times.

“Feelin’” is a morose song but with an epic, powerful chorus. It is very different from anything the band had done prior.

The song is a masterpiece. Sammy is singing of a world on fire in every aspect of society as we know it. The song twists and turns with dazzling instrumentals and lyrics that are screamed at the heavens. It is the band completing its evolution into the mature incarnation of the band once known for wanting to “Dance the Night Away”. This would be the last song on the record unless you got it in Japan (more on that in a second), and it brings everything to a close. It is the end of the record, and unfortunately, the beginning of the End for the Hagar years.

If you’re lucky enough to be in Japan, there was one bonus track: this is the groove laden, oddball “Crossing Over”.  It’s a song about the afterlife and lyrically it’s probably the best tune of the bunch.

I am often called an experimental composer, so I suppose it is no surprise that I love this song and was so disappointed that it took me years after purchasing Balance to find it. I believe that this track completes the cycle started in “The Seventh Seal”. Notice how I talked about every song on the record being related in a balanced symmetry? I believe that “Crossing Over” is the mirror to “The Seventh Seal”. The album opens with nightmares of spiritual chaos, and this track is the completion of such chaos.


So, what do I have to say in closing? This record shows Van Halen at its highest possible output of creativity, and most importantly, its ability to show a deep philosophical approach to its writing never seen before or since. Balance is the culmination of everything that Van Halen was destined to be, and for that reason, it is the best record they ever wrote. Even if you disagree 100 percent with me, or just really hate Sammy Hagar, give this one another chance.

You might be surprised what you find.

5/5 stars

#657: GUEST SHOT! Operation: Van Halen (Derek’s Story)

GETTING MORE TALE #657: Operation: Van Halen (Derek’s Story)
Guest post by guitarist and songwriter Derek Kortepeter

Alright, so I’m pretty sure all of us can relay some embarrassing moments from our teenage years. I dunno if it’s the changing hormones or what, but we tend to be pretty damn stupid in these formative years. I have been thinking about my teen years a lot recently, most likely since my high school 10 year reunion is coming up in 2019.

I don’t if it’s nostalgia or what, but I have suddenly been reliving a lot of moments from this time. Here’s something you have to know to know about me first before I start my story. I spent most of my education in public schools in Southern California, namely elementary school and college (two years at a Pasadena City College and then three at UCLA as a transfer student). I switched to a small Christian K-12 school for middle and high school because of bullying (cops got involved, nasty stuff). While I was a working class kid of a single mom, this small school had scholarships and financial aid that made it possible for me to attend.

It is at this small school in “SoCal” that my story takes place. This story involves a CD; well, two CDs to be exact. You see, music has been my obsession my entire life (it eventually became what I studied in college). I had a far ranging interest in all kinds of music from around the world but as a teenager rock, namely punk and metal, amped me up the most.

Above all bands was Van Halen.

Pretty much every person that knew me also knew how obsessed I was with the band. It didn’t matter what incarnation of the band, I owned every damn CD and cut my teeth as a guitarist on all those records.

So while I was a teenage metalhead and punk, what went along with that was that I was a bit of…let’s say, a social anomaly. I didn’t really fit into any clique, but most knew me as a decent guy who was just a tad obsessed with Eddie Van Halen. To go along with this, I was horrifically shy around girls I found attractive.

Awkward doesn’t even really cover it, but holy shit did this come to a head in a hilariously embarrassing way with a girl I liked from age 14 to age 15 (this story ranges from late middle school to early high school). Let’s call this girl “S” so that this never makes it back to people I know. Remember how I mentioned that I was a bit of a social misfit? This girl S wasn’t. In fact, she was popular.

Very. Popular.

My dumb ass had the bright idea to get a crush on a (future) cheerleader who hung around (future) jocks that hated my guts (incidentally I did play starting right tackle on the high school football team) and boy was I about to make my mark. Remember how I mentioned that I was shy around girls? Yeah, that meant I couldn’t hold a conversation without my voice cracking from nerves.

So I had a plan to say something without too many words. I was going to go old school and make a mix tape for her since my conversations were very limited. “Oh man S, is going to so dig this! She’ll love that I shared this amazing band with her,” I thought to myself. The thing is, it was my 8th grade year in the early 2000s so cassettes weren’t the thing anymore. As such, I made her a mix CD.

Not just any mix CD though. A VAN HALEN mix CD.

All the classic Roth and Hagar love songs were there man, it didn’t matter that S was more of a Mariah Carey fan, I figured NOBODY could deny the mighty VH.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA BOY WAS I WRONG.

Once I made the CD I approached her locker shaking like my apartment during an earthquake and the conversation went something like this.

Me: Hey… uh… hi S!

S: Oh hi Derek.

Me: So uhhhh…I really like Van Halen…and I…uh…(reaching into my backpack) made this CD for you.

S: Ok?

Me: Yeah…soooo…let me know what you think…k bye!

A day passed and I approached her again towards the end of the day. I figured “OK dude, this is it, you’re gonna find out how much she dug it!” Cue scene:

Me: So… how did you like Van Halen?

S: (nods slightly, forces a polite smile) Yeah… it was… pretty good.

Me: Cool! I, um, yeah cool see ya!

Later on I found out that she didn’t even listen to the damn thing. Friends of mine standing near the “popular group” heard that she didn’t even want the CD and tried to hand it over to guys in the group that liked metal. Major bummer.

But I wasn’t finished embarrassing myself hooooooooo boy I was just getting started.

The 8th grade year ended and I continued to make awkward conversation with S and left a couple of really geeky messages on her home answering machine (FUN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY). On the last day of the end of the year I was risking my neck by wearing a Van Halen t-shirt (band shirts were banned by the fascists at my school). I wore it in rebellion of the fact that we were going to have to wear uniforms starting my freshman year of high school. That day I got her to sign my yearbook and she wrote, I’m paraphrasing more or less, “you’re awesome, never change <3 –S”

DUDE SHE PUT A HEART OMG.

You see I didn’t realize at the time that girls just do that sort of thing, so I figured I still had a chance. Anyways, I got made fun of quite a bit by the jocks for the whole Van Halen thing, but still liked S. Come freshman year I was a starter on the football team (still not a jock…just was a great lineman), and S had recently had her birthday.

Operation Van Halen part 2 was on.

This time I made a pastel artwork for her (I was a decent artist back then) and… also made another fucking mix CD. This time it was mixed with some more recent bands popular at the time, but still had Van Halen and also some solo Roth and Hagar as well.

Conversation follows here:

Me: So… I have something for you, wait here (I run into the athletic locker room and get the gift).

Me: (hands the artwork and CD over) Happy birthday S.

S: (stares blankly) Oh… you didn’t have to do that (gives awkward hug).

Me: (freaking out that she hugged me) Yeah…uh happy birthday, bye!

In the year that followed this solidified my place in the pantheon of stupidity as the hostility of the jocks increased since I continued to try to pursue a chick outside of my social standing. Eventually I gave up and moved on with my life. Van Halen became a running joke among the popular crowd (one jock grabbed my yearbook and wrote VAN HALEN SUCKS just for “lolz”).

Joke was on them though, I eventually became a really great guitarist (I’m sure Mike can testify to this) and performed frequently in front of the school. My senior year the leader of the worship band asked me to play this Steve Vai piece; I won 2nd place in the talent show for (most people thought I was robbed of 1st). Incidentally, I was placed right in front of S and her pals for the performance.

I wonder if she remembered those stupid CDs I made.

DVD REVIEW: Van Halen – Video Hits Volume I (1998)

VAN HALEN – Video Hits Volume I (1998 DVD)

Van Halen had some of the best videos of the 80s, bar none. After David Lee Roth, the visionary behind the videos, left the band, they refused to film any new clips for their first six singles with Sammy Hagar! They didn’t want the comparisons.  Instead they released live versions of singles as videos.  They finally filmed an actual studio video for the ballad “When It’s Love” in late 1988.

It seems Van Halen still can’t reconcile all the different singers from the past.  That is obvious by the omissions from this disc.  Go ahead and list the missing videos:

The excellently corny “Oh Pretty Woman”. “You Really Got Me”, the timeless Kinks cover. The live videos for “Unchained” and “So This Is Love”. All the live video clips are missing, even Sammy’s debut in “Why Can’t This Be Love”.  As is Gary Cherone’s “Fire In The Hole”. “Feels So Good”, “Top of the World”, “Amsterdam”…all missing.

At least they included one Cherone video (“Without You”), but then again, he was the band’s current singer when this was released in 1998.  It would have been weird if he wasn’t on it.  He hasn’t made an appearance or even been mentioned on any Van Halen releases since.

For Van Halen to refuse to release those videos on DVD just indicates they’re scared of their own shadows. You can’t bury your past, you may as well celebrate it.

2/5 stars

REVIEW: Sammy Hagar – “Give to Live” (12″ single)

SAMMY HAGAR – “Give to Live” (1987 Geffen 12″ single)

Sammy Hagar released his solo album I Never Said Goodbye in 1987, right when he was still in Van Halen.  It was co-produced by Sammy and Eddier himself.  It was a mixed bag, with some killer tunes and a few things that were far too wimpy.  A couple singles were released, and “Give to Live” was the best.  As a power ballad, it probably could have suited any of the Van Hagar albums except For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.  That’s Eddie on bass, by the way, and listen to how great he is.  No surprise, right?  When you’re as great at music as Eddie Van Halen is, it must be hard for other musicians to cut it in his eyes.  (Cough cough Michael Anthony cough.)

Also on the A-side is album opener “When the Hammer Falls”, an OK rock track.  As discussed in the album review for I Never Said Goodbye, “When the Hammer Falls” has a good riff but not much of a chorus.  That’s too bad since it was one of the hardest rockers on the LP.  (And just listen to Eddie’s bass…again!)  you can’t hit a homerun every time, though there’s nothing here to be embarrassed of.

If you buy the single, there’s no point unless you get the 12″ with the non-album bonus track.  On the B-side you will find the full-length version of “Standin’ at the Same Old Crossroads”, which was only 1:46 on album.  It served as an introduction to the song “Privacy”, but on this single it’s unedited.  This is a real treat for fans of Sammy’s underappreciated guitar playing.  The song is just Sammy and an electric slide guitar, bluesing it up.  The intro is longer and there’s a lot more playing than the album version.  Stuff like this is the reason to have B-sides and buy singles in the first place.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Van Halen – LIVE: Right here, right now. (1993, plus “Jump” live single)

scan_20160929VAN HALEN – LIVE: Right here, right now. (1993 Warner Bros, plus “Jump” live single)

The summer of ’93 was the “Summer of Live Albums” here at LeBrain HQ.  There were many live discs out to digest, several of them from “must-purchase” bands.  Most notable was Ozzy’s Live & Loud which came in a metal speaker grille cover.  Iron Maiden also put out A Real Live One, the first of a two-album live set.  And then there was a big’un:  Van Halen’s first live album, the double Right here, right now.

What did all three releases have in common?  They were all boring duds.

Sad but true.  In Van Halen’s case, the disappointment was acute.  Sure it was “Van Hagar” and not the “real deal” if you believe in that  sort of thing, but that wasn’t the issue.  There are a few problems with Right here, right now but none of them have to do with the singer.  The setlist is a real drag, with way too much material from For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.  10 of the 11 songs from F.U.C.K. are on this album!  (“The Dream is Over” being the only missing song — you had to buy this on VHS to get it!)  A F.U.C.K. song opens the set, another closes the set…it’s too much, especially since F.U.C.K. was (one of?) the weakest Halen albums to date.

Issue #2 is perhaps a bit silly, since Van Halen shows are known for their solos: but this album has too many solos.  Eddie’s aside; he always going to blow your mind.  Unfortunately, Michael Anthony and Alex Van Halen are, quite frankly, boring soloists.  Did “Ultra Bass” need to be five minutes long?  It’s best when Michael’s just playing, but as fans know his bass solo is half notes, and half noise.  Immediately after that is “Pleasure Dome/Drum Solo”, nine whole minutes.  The instrumental “Pleasure Dome” section is best since it resembles a song (a driving hard one at that).

The final major issue is one we didn’t even know about until recently.  Sammy Hagar revealed in his book Red that this album was heavily overdubbed afterwards, and I wouldn’t doubt it.  (Hagar claims that he re-sang the entire thing over again in the studio.)  There was always something underneath the surface that didn’t feel right about this album, and that could be it right there.  Right here, right now feels dulled, perhaps by too much studio polish after the fact.

It’s not all bad of course, how could it be?  “Poundcake” and “Judgement Day” start it off strongly.  Then they went and dropped a ballad (“When It’s Love”) and a shitty song (“Spanked”), and all momentum is stopped.  The duo of “You Really Got Me” and “Cabo Wabo” are pretty damn great though.  There are a couple Hagar solo tracks in set which add some spice to the mix.  The acoustic ballad “Give to Live” is just Sammy alone, but “One Way to Rock” is the whole ass-kickin’ band.  Of all the Hagar tracks the band has played live, “One Way to Rock” sounds most natural as a Van Halen song.  The final surprise is “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, which Eddie does not play keyboards on.  Instead he mimics Pete Townsend’s synthesizer part with his guitar.  Who purists will hate Sammy’s take on it, but fuck it.  It’s a pretty damn good version of a hard to cover classic.

There are a couple other decent tracks to be had.  German and Japanese versions contain two bonus tracks:  “Mine All Mine” (from the OU812 tour) and another Hagar track, “Eagles Fly”.  They can also be found on the “Jump” live single.  Unlike much of the rest of the album “Mine All Mine” has some bite to it.  It’s a great example of synthesizer working well in a hard rock song.  (Unfortunately it fades out early.)  As for “Eagles Fly”, this is a song Sammy played acoustic on the occasions he didn’t play “Give to Live”.  Although it was played less, “Eagles Fly” edges out the other just slightly by a nose.  These two bonus tracks are worth tracking down the single for, or an import version of the album.

I traded up my original copy of LIVE: Right here, right now for a US import that came in a cardboard digipack.  Although it has no bonus tracks, it does have some bonus photos, which is still pretty cool.

It’s not fun to say any Van Halen album isn’t essential, but Right here, right now is not essential.

2/5 stars

 

COMPLETE VAN HALEN REVIEW SERIES:

VAN HALEN – Zero (1977 Gene Simmons demo bootleg)
VAN HALEN – Van Halen (1978 Warner)
VAN HALEN – Van Halen II (1979 Warner)
VAN HALEN – Women and Children First (1980 Warner)
VAN HALEN – Fair Warning (1981 Warner)
VAN HALEN – Diver Down (1982 Warner)
VAN HALEN – 1984 (1984 Warner)
VAN HALEN – 5150 (1986 Warner Bros.)
VAN HALEN – OU812 (1988 Warner)
VAN HALEN – For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991)
VAN HALEN – Balance (1995 Warner – Japanese version included)
VAN HALEN – Best Of Volume I (1996 Warner)
VAN HALEN – 3 (Collectors’ tin 1998)
VAN HALEN – The Best of Both Worlds (2005 Warner)
VAN HALEN – A Different Kind of Truth (2012)
VAN HALEN – Tokyo Dome Live in Concert (2015)
VAN HALEN – Tokyo Dome Live in Concert (2015) Review by Tommy Morais

+

VAN HALEN – “Best of Both Worlds” (1986 Warner 7″ single)
VAN HALEN – “Can’t Get This Stuff No More” / “Me Wise Magic” (1996 Warner promo singles)
VAN HALEN – “Can’t Stop Loving You” (Parts 1 & 2, inc. collector’s tin)
VAN HALEN – “Right Now” (1992 cassette single, Warner)
VAN HALEN vs. JOHN LENNON – “Imagine A Jump” mashup by “Mighty Mike”
RECORD STORE TALES Part 186:  The Van Halen Tin

 

 

REVIEW: Sammy Hagar – Sammy Hagar / I Never Said Goodbye (1987)

Scan_20160705SAMMY HAGAR – Sammy Hagar / I Never Said Goodbye (1987 Geffen)

Remember when everybody in the Van Hagar camp just loved each other?  Things were so happy in Van Hagar, that Sammy released a solo album in 1987 and nobody got mad.  Hell, Eddie himself co-produced it and played bass!   Hagar was obligated to do another solo album to get out of his contract with Geffen, and so the self-titled Sammy Hagar was recorded quickly.  Sammy apparently forgot he released another album also called Sammy Hagar in 1977, so this one was re-titled I Never Said Goodbye.   (I still call it Sammy Hagar.)

There was something particularly weird about this release on cassette. I had a version, purchased from Columbia House around 1989-1990, with a bizarre cover. The J-card was designed to fold around outside the cassette shell. I’m not sure why to this day, and I’ve never seen another copy like it. The artwork was obviously designed to fold on the outside rather than the inside, but I’ll never figure out why.

All the members of Van Halen even appeared in Sammy’s video for “Hands and Knees”.  The plot was simple, and perhaps a foreshadowing of things to come.  A bored Hagar calls his bandmates (including nextdoor neighbor Eddie) to jam, but nobody’s interested.  Instead, Hagar jams with a group of robots!  “Hands and Knees” was an odd choice for a first single, being a dark and slow mood tune.  The video guaranteed attention, and still garners a chuckle today (albeit a sad one, knowing these guys aren’t pals anymore).  I love Michael Anthony’s huge brick of a cell phone.  The video was better than the song, though it does have a killer of a chorus.  It’s clear if you listen that Eddie Van Halen is one damn fine bassist too.  Are you surprised?

One thing about this album, though:  it’s really commercial.  Like way, way more pop even than 5150.  It’s no surprise that some writers like the esteemed Martin Popoff have slagged this album.  The production has an airy 80’s feel, not enough oomph.  The opening track “When the Hammer Falls” is a hard rocker, but it could have been thicker with more meat.  Not that it would have helped too much.  The chorus on this one is pretty weak, which is too bad since the riff is good enough for rock and roll.

The second single, which Van Halen used to let Sammy play live acoustically, is “Give to Live”.  Van Halen’s version can be found on 1993’s Live: Right here, right now.  Hagar’s studio original is unabashedly pop, bombastic…and good.  I admit I still enjoy this very cheesy ballad.  Hagar is rarely profound, and neither is “Give to Live”, but it’s a nice song indeed.

A shitty synth (?) horn section urinates all over “Boy’s Night Out”. Speaking of synth, “Returning Home” is all but unpalatable. This is one of Sammy’s UFO yarns, a story of a guy returning back to Earth to find it wrecked. “I saw the ruins, once the smoke cleared, once upon returning home.” It’s just sunk by all this terrible synthesizer junk and programming. The UFO has crashed into the damn mountain!

ALIENS

The second side surprisingly opened with some blues jamming:  “Standin’ at the Same Old Crossroads”.  And that would be Sammy on the slide guitar.  “Crossroads” leads directly into “Privacy”, a “Radar Love” re-write that is better than “Radar Love”.  Maybe I’m just sick of “Radar Love”, but “Privacy” has some smoking playing on it, proving again that Hagar is actually a pretty badass soloist.  Side two on a whole is actually much better than the first.  “Back Into You” is a vintage-style Hagar radio rocker.  Journey must have wished they wrote “Back Into You”.  The keyboard overdubs aren’t necessary but hey, it was the 80’s and this is a great little AOR rocker.

Another tune that Hagar played live with Van Halen was “Eagles Fly”.  He actually presented the song to the band for 5150, but it was turned down.  A live Van Halen version can be found on the 1993 single for “Jump (Live)”.  He did it acoustically on stage, but the studio version is bombastic and big like “Give to Live” is.  It’s a pretty impressive tune, for pop rock.   David Lauser’s drumming makes the song, I’m a sucker for that rat-a-tat-tat!

The album ends on a ho-hum note, the soul-funk of “What They Gonna Say Now”, sort of this album’s “Inside” to close it out.  Just not good enough.  If you want to hear Eddie Van Halen playing bass up close and personal, he’s very audible here, but he’s not a flash bassist.  He plays with the groove for the song.

It’s tempting to think of this album as a collection of tracks that were not right for Van Halen, and that’s mostly true.  A lot of it, however, just wasn’t good enough for Van Halen.  “What They Gonna Say Now” could have been a Van Halen track, but it would have been the weakest tune on 5150 if so.

2.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Van Halen – OU812 (1988)

Review by special request of reader Wardy!

OU812_0001VAN HALEN – OU812 (1988 Warner)

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.

Hey!OU812_0002
Alright!
Woo!
How ’bout ‘cha now, come on!
Oh yeah!
Dig it! That’s right
Is everybody ready? Let’s go!

(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!
Uh! Ouch!
Help me
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?

4/5 stars

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!

REVIEW: Van Halen – Tokyo Dome Live in Concert (2015 – LeBrain’s review)

For another perspective, check out Tommy Moraisreview of this CD, here!

NEW RELEASE

VAN HALEN – Tokyo Dome Live in Concert (2015 Warner)

I’d like to begin this review by diving head-on into the thick of it.  Everybody’s been talking about Dave’s voice.  It’s all anybody seems to talk about regarding the new Van Halen Tokyo Dome Live in Concert CD.  Even Sammy Hagar, always eager to open his mouth and opine on all things Halen, had this to say:

“I’m trying to tread lightly on the whole thing.  Every time they do something, I’m like, ‘Oh my God, can these guys do anything worse to their reputation and to the level of the music of the band?’”

Sammy couldn’t be more wrong (or bitter sounding).

Newsflash:  the new Van Halen is good!

Sonically, this CD is monstrous.  The bottom end sounds so good, and what a bottom end it is!  Lil’ Wolfgang Van Halen has become quite a bassist, which surely comes as no surprise.  His vocals with pa Eddie keep the melody grounded while David Lee Roth freestyles it.  No, he doesn’t sound like Michael Anthony, but surely you knew that by now.  I have always loved Mike’s backing vocals.  But Mike’s not coming back to Van Halen, and if you miss Mike that much, Chickenfoot have two excellent albums for you to pick up.

TOKYO DOME

The setlist: in a word, phenomenal.  All seven DLR-VH albums are mined for hits and deep cuts.  This means that you get to hear tracks like “Romeo Delight”, which I bet you never thought you’d hear live again.  “I’ll Wait”, “Ice Cream Man”, “Beautiful Girls”…almost all of my favourites are here!  But what really blew my mind was “Hear About It Later”, one of my desert island tracks, from Fair Warning.  I understand that the setlists were often decided between Dave and Wolfie, and you sure can’t find much fault in their choices.  The only one I didn’t particularly care for in the live setting was the recent single “Tattoo”, with its taped backing vocals.  It’s kind of an oddball Van Halen track as it is.

Now, Dave’s vocals:  They are what they are.  There are moments he’s out of breath, wheezing, and missing notes.  They are fewer than you’d expect.  I think one thing that didn’t help this album’s early reputation was that they released some questionable preview tracks.  Dave’s vocals on “Panama” are not as hot as they are on something like “Ice Cream Man”.  Definitely, he does better on some songs than others, but he succeeds in injecting every line with that Dave “charasma”.  He cheats his way around certain melodies, and speaks where he used to sing, but other singers his age do the same thing.  Rob Halford changes the vocal melody live quite often.  So, given that age and time do things to the human voice, and given that Dave is a smoker, you cannot compare Roth in 2013 to Roth in 1983.  (Let’s just hope that some day, we get a CD/DVD set of that US Festival, eh?)  And keep in mind: Roth’s so-so vocals are only proof that this album is live, no tampering in the mix (unlike the live album they did with Sammy which was heavily re-recorded).

Last, but certainly not least: Edward Van Halen himself.  It seems kind of pointless to say “he’s playing awesome”, but I do think it’s important to get it out there.  He’s had health scares, and he definitely hit a low point back in 2003.  His singing and playing here is awesome.  There is nobody in the world who sounds like Eddie Van Halen, though there are many who have tried.  In a blind taste test, 100% of Van Halen fans chose Eddie.

Filler:  Alex’s drum solo “Me & You”, a tropical jazz inflected moment that simply does not fit the show.  But the guys are getting up there and a mid-show drum solo gives Dave and Eddie a chance to rest for a few minutes.  In every other way, Alex Van Halen is awesome on this album.

I recommend any serious Van Halen fan to ignore the hype (and Sammy) and pick up Tokyo Dome Live. It’s cheap (about $13-15), it sounds excellent (it’s self-produced) and it has all the songs you want.  After all, we didn’t spend all these years moaning that we wanted Dave back in the band, only to bitch and complain about the live album, did we?

4/5 stars

VH LIVE_0001

GUEST REVIEW: Van Halen – Tokyo Dome Live in Concert (2015)

NEW RELEASE review by TOMMY MORAIS

“Better late than never or too little too late?”

VH LIVEVAN HALEN – Tokyo Dome Live in Concert (2015 Warner)

It came especially late, but alas we finally have a live Van Halen album featuring David Lee Roth. Tokyo Dome Live in Concert was recorded on March 22 2013 during VH’s last tour. It’s not the band’s first live album as there has been a live Van Hagar release, but it’s the first with Diamond Dave which fans had been asking for, for decades now. This lineup features the Van Halen brothers (of course) Alex and Eddie with David Lee Roth, and Wolfgang Van Halen au lieu of original bassist Michael Anthony. One has to ask “why a live album at this point late in their career?” but it’s better late than never l suppose. Van Halen’s classic lineup and first six albums with DLR from 1978-84 have touched and inspired generations. It’s all-time classic rock, and there are plenty of masterpieces and classics to be found. The band knows this too, as they perform the songs that everyone wants to hear from those six albums along with a few from the current lineup’s 2012 output A Different Kind of Truth.

The setlist is incredible! I mean seriously look at it (they open with “Unchained”) and tell me that it’s not damn well near perfect. All the hits are there along with favourites and that’s one of the album’s strengths and main appeal. I don’t think l would’ve taken anything out. I wouldn’t have added much more either. Anyone who complains is just nitpicking. I would’ve wanted to see “You And Your Blues” from ADKOT instead of “Chinatown”* but that’s about as picky as l can be. Everything l could’ve asked for is here. Two discs and 25 songs (one is a drum solo) at this price is excellent. Those things l can’t complain about.

Now let’s address the elephant in the room. Yeah THAT one! Roth’s singing. Sometimes he completely leaves out lines, his timing is off or at the very last second, and occasionally he’ll almost talk instead of singing. To his credit he’s getting up there in age and moves a lot during live performances, it’s not getting any easier for him and l know criticism of his voice will be harsh towards this release. I’m trying not to be too harsh, while remaining objective. Granted he doesn’t sound great and there some not so good moments, but Diamond Dave was never truly an amazing singer to begin with. Less so live. He was always known to be the charismatic and energetic frontman and no one could touch him.

One of my favourite moments has Dave being Dave, during the beginning of “Pretty Woman” where he goes: “I know that song! (pause) I know that song! (pause) I fucking love that song!”  On some songs he sounds good, some tolerable and some…awful.

People have mixed feelings to say the least about Wolfgang replacing Michael Anthony. I think it hurts them not to have Anthony around because his backing vocals were truly the band’s secret weapon and they improved Dave’s overall sound, something Wolfgang simply cannot do (he does sound a little better now), but he does get the job done on the bass guitar. The backing vocals are not awful, and they try their best (“You Really Got Me” is a good effort) but they could have used Anthony’s presence.  Alex Van Halen has lost nothing with the years and plays incredible.  The “Me & You” piece is amazing. Eddie does what he does best, and surprises us at times adding things here and there being the player we know he is. I can’t say that they really live up to their past glory, but very few bands can and at the end of the day it’s a fun performance.

The sound is very raw and bare-bones, it doesn’t sound like it was overdubbed at all which is one of Tokyo Dome‘s best qualities. I think they were going for a bit of a bootleg sound, not too much as clearly this exceeds a bootleg, but Van Halen wanted a real raw, gritty and heavy feel. Now the audience is essentially nowhere to be found. I own lots of live albums and this has got to be one of the quietest crowds l’ve heard for Van Halen (and a rock concert for that matter). I can only assume they turned them down during the mixing.

On a side note, I think it was a missed opportunity to film the show and have it released as a CD/DVD package**.  I think it would have helped gather even more interest in the band and Tokyo Dome. I’m just glad we finally have some new Van Halen out, and a live one with Dave.

Is it perfect? No. Does it have it’s flaws? Yes. Could it have been more? Well l think if you don’t expect too much out out of Van Halen you will find much to enjoy. The guys are a little older, Dave’s voice has aged and it’s 3/4 of the classic lineup but they can still deliver a good performance and entertain you. Some will completely rip on Dave’s voice and l get it (STOP CHEWING GUM WHILE YOU SING!), it’s the main reason l’m giving Tokyo Dome 3 stars. It does make you long for a proper live release from the early 80’s. The musicianship though, is very good and the setlist incredible.

3/5 stars

*LeBrain disagrees.  I like both songs, but “Chinatown” trumps “You and Your Blues”!

**LeBrain agrees.  I don’t know why that wasn’t done.

For LeBrain’s review, click here!

TOKYO DOME_0002

#375: VH Predictions FAIL!

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#375: VH Predictions FAIL!

I like to think I’m such a know-it-all. Higher-than-thou, my musical knowledge trumps yours, etc. However when I’m wrong (it happens frequently), sometimes I’m colossally wrong.  Below is an example of me being completely, 100% totally wrong.  Although I’m glad I was.  When the Van Halen reunion with David Lee Roth was announced, I believed it would not last long.  I took the time to write out this list below.  With the live album coming, and the hot rumours of another tour, this is a great time to showcase one of my most colossal failures as a clairvoyant.

VH

Date: 2007/02/08 07:10

TOP TEN REASONS WHY THE =VH= VAN HALEN REUNION TOUR WILL GO DOWN IN FLAMES

10. Wolfgang Van Halen on bass means that there are three Van Halens in the band vs. one Lee Roth. David will feel outnumbered at every turn.

9. Wolfgang Van Halen, a 15 year old kid, is an untested property. Will it sound like the same band without the very recognizable Michael Anthony on bass?

8. No new songs, no new album, just another greatest hits (the third and most obvious rip off for your money). [NOTE: at the time Van Halen were planning to release a “best of DLR-era” CD, which was thankfully cancelled.]

7. David Lee Roth’s voice has been utterly destroyed since about 1991.

6. Eddie Van Halen is but a shadow of the man he once was. A raging alcoholic surrounded by yes-men, his guitar playing hasn’t touched upon brilliance in almost a decade. Throw his 15 year old son into the alcoholic tour and you have recipe for disaster.

5. Roth and the VH brothers haven’t gotten along in decades. The fact that the brothers recently attempted–and failed at–a reunion with Sammy Hagar before this indicates that this is a last-ditch effort to save the band. Not exactly the kind of motive to make a reunion happen.

4. Roth will say and do what he wants, much to the chagrin of the ultra-controlling VH brothers.

3. Alex VH’s spinal problems, while not heavily discussed, are probably only getting worse with time.

2. 40 dates isn’t much of a tour for a band of this stature.

1. Classic VH = Edward Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, David Lee Roth, and Michael Anthony. Without Anthony, this is not classic Van Halen. This is in effect the fourth version of the band. VH-IV, if you like. That isn’t what I wanted to see on tour this summer.

I am glad to be have been proven wrong on this one. Van Halen has defied the odds and my predictions. I couldn’t be happier about it.