VAN HALEN – The Best of Both Worlds (2005 Warner)
Musically, I can find very little fault with this collection. How can I? When you think about it, musically Van Halen are above reproach. In the 1970’s, they were without equal. No other band could boast such a series of excellent albums, a charismatic and innovative frontman like Dave Lee Roth, or (obviously) a unique guitar mutilator like Edward Van Halen. Van Halen defined the term “party rock”, but they also rocked with intelligence. They combined challenging arrangements with near-impossible guitar work, clever lyrics, an excellent image, musical influences dating back to the 1920’s, and music heavier than that of many of their rivals.
So how could this compilation possibly fail if the music is that strong? This album is completedly torpedoed by the sequencing of the songs. That factor alone makes The Best Of Both Worlds a struggle to listen to. There seems to be a notable effort to downplay David Lee Roth’s contributions in favor of Sammy Hagar’s overall.
By song selection, on paper this album looks good. However upon one listen you will realize what works and what doesn’t. Kicking off the album with Eddie’s groundbreaking solo “Eruption” seems like a good idea at first. It serves to remind the listener right from the beginning why Eddie is considered one of the best, if not the very best, guitar player of all time. His sound is warm and “brown” and he creates noises that nobody had ever heard before….
…But “Eruption” is followed by the first of the new Sammy singles, “It’s About Time”. Trying to glue “Eruption” to a new song just doesn’t work. A Dave song would have sounded much more natural. It is a jarring transition, and it gives me the impression that Van Halen is trying to up-sell the Sammy Hagar period in some way. The overall effect is an album that is has absolutely no cohesion.
Thank God this wasn’t the final tour…
There are always new songs to hype a compilation like this. “It’s About Time” is the strongest of the three, all of which are Van Hagar. It is as close to upbeat as they were likely to get, with all the personal strife going on. The lyrics are pretty obviously about the return of Sammy Hagar. But something sounds wrong, something sounds un-Halen. The missing ingredient is bassist Michael Anthony, who did not play bass, nor write, nor sing background vocals on these songs. Without Anthony, you can tell something is missing. (You’ll notice how far back he is in the group photo, too.) The other two songs, “Up For Breakfast” (dumb title, dumb lyrics) and “Learning To See” (A musical attempt at being dramatic and wise) are nothing to write home about.
Then we begin juxtaposing Dave songs with Sammy songs, one after the other, for nearly the entire remainder of the album. Folks, taken on their own, each one of these tracks is a hit…but playing the album, this doesn’t sound good in the speakers! Sammy-era Halen was a different beast from Diamond Dave. Sammy’s poppier, from a completely different and more mainstream point of view. Without beating this point into the ground, for one example, take a look at the tracklist: Sam’s “Dreams” is squeezed in between Dave’s “You Really Got Me” and “Hot For Teacher”! The only time this sequencing really works is when “Jump” is followed by “Top Of The World”. The songs traditionally follow each other in concert because they share the same riff. Listen to the outro of “Jump”. It is the main riff to “Top Of The World”.
I asked Craig Fee for his opinion on these shenanigans, and he had this to say:
When I saw this arrive on my desk as a promo, I was confused. Why would you mix Diamond Dave tracks with a bunch of wanky new Sammy songs? What would possess anyone to include the Red Rocker singing Dave’s material in concert and not have a single DLR live cut?
My feeling is that this is a ripoff move in order to hammer home the fact that Van Hagar were touring! They make sure to mention this in the liner notes. It’s an unfortunate but fairly common practice, and a sure sign of record company meddling.
Had they devoted 1 disc to each ‘era,’ I don’t think it would’ve pissed me off as much as this one did. And where the fuck is Gary?! More importantly — why are we, the die-hard Van Halen fans — continually starved for live material from the 1978-84 era?
One star. For the album art.
The album rocks and rolls along, Dave then Sam, Dave then Sam, until the end when you are presented with the live tracks. As Craig said, all are Van Hagar, previously released on Live: Right Here, Right Now. I’m sick of that album. It’s been mined endlessly for B-sides, and all three songs appear elsewhere on this album in their original DLR studio versions! Much like the album openers, these close the disc rather weakly.
Craig is right about being starved for classic 1978-1984 live material. Even assuming the Van Halens remove that particular pickle from their behinds, they didn’t have to recycle old Van Hagar live stuff. The wasted CD space could have been used to give this album a more well-rounded feel, covering Van Halen’s whole career. The compilation covers 1978-1995, and then skips ahead to 2004 with the three new songs. Excluded are cool singles from the lost period, like “Me Wise Magic”, “Humans Being” and “Without You” (from Van Halen 3 with Gary Cherone). Or, they could have just put more classic David Lee Roth tracks on there, since the album’s a bit Sam-heavy. Anything but more live re-releases! Fair Warning is criminally under-represented.
Taking a quick scan of the liner notes will reveal that the brothers Halen really are trying to re-write their history. Not only are the Cherone years not even mentioned, but the Dave years are discussed only briefly. No pictures of the band with Dave are included, even though he makes up at least a third of the album (the best third of it).
I will mention one other little point before I finish. One track, “Finish What Ya Started”, sounds like it is defective, ending abruptly. The band and producer received complaints about this, but it is no error. While mastering this CD, producer Glen Ballard decided to extend “Finish What Ya Started” beyond its original fade point until the tape runs out, when it ends abruptly. This longer, previously unreleased version was not advertised as such and led fans to think the track was defective.
So there you have it — as it currently stands, The Best Of Both Worlds is sadly the most comprehensive Van Halen collection out there. May as well go ahead and make your own. At least the music is above reproach.