Michael Anthony

REVIEW: Chickenfoot – “Divine Termination” (2017 single)

CHICKENFOOT – “Divine Termination” (2017 Edel coloured 7″ single)

For a band with only two albums, Chickenfoot sure do milk it.  After a single debut album, they did a live DVD called Get Your Buzz On.  Two albums in came a live album called Chickenfoot LV.  (Get it?  LV can mean both “live” and “55”, Sammy’s notable hit.)  Then another package called Best + Live, mixing the “greatest hits” with a new song and an audio release of Get Your Buzz On — which, by the way, was mined for five songs already on the previous LV album!

It’s all too much.  We like Chickenfoot here; really we do, but enough is enough.  Instead of buying all that stuff, we decided to just go for a 7″ single for the one “new” song called “Divine Termination”.  That seemed the most logical purchasing option, all things considered.  It’s a nicely packaged 45, on clear pink coloured vinyl.  The side A label depicts Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony.  Side B has Joe Satriani and Chad Smith.  It feels nice and heavy in hand.

Unfortunately, it’s not all rose-coloured.  These guys had five years to come up with one good new song.  “Divine Termination” is not it.  Although it does have a neat, vintage sounding Deep Purple riff, the Chickenfoot hooks and harmonies are missing.  The chorus has no meat.  “Divine Termination” is forgettable even though Joe Satriani plays as brilliantly as ever.

On the flipside is another release of “Highway Star”, the Deep Purple cover.  It’s available on Best + Live, but its first issue was on Re-Machined, the Deep Purple tribute album.  Too bad the B-side isn’t something exclusive, but it does blow away the A-side.  Listen to Joe somehow make his guitar resemble Jon Lord’s Hammond Organ.

Maybe Chickenfoot were too creatively spent after years of solo and other projects to come up with a memorable new song.  There’s talk of a third Chickenfoot album in the future.  If so, it has to be better than “Divine Termination”.

2/5 stars

 

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: 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

 

 

#512: Sh*t LeBrain’s Wife Says

GETTING MORE TALE #512: Shit LeBrain’s Wife Says

As readers here know, when I can get away with putting the minimum amount of effort into a story, I’m going to go for it.  This one is lifted directly from my Facebook posts, a couple months after Jen and I got married.  Her ongoing education in rock was just beginning.  I can proudly say that today, Mrs. LeBrain knows the difference between Van Halen and Van Hagar.  But in 2008?


 

Oct 9 2008:

TOP TWO QUOTES FROM JENNIFER TODAY:

#2 Some background, I was playing the track “Me Wise Magic” by Van Halen, an obscure song with David Lee Roth singing.  I said to Jen, do you know who this is? And she responded:

“Yeah…is this Van Hagar?”

#1 “Wow is your beard ever grey!”

But I’m still gonna stay married to her anyway.

wow is your beard ever grey


It’s even more grey today.

Jen likes both Van Halen and Van Hagar now, and she’s perfectly capable of telling the difference.  She counts “Jump” and “Why Can’t This Be Love” as her favourite VH songs, tied for the #1 position.  Considering that in my dating days, girls used to insist on listening to MuchDance95 in the car, I’m a very lucky man. I dodged some musical bullets, and somehow ended up with the best girl in the world.

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: Chickenfoot – Chickenfoot (CD/DVD set)

CHICKENFOOT_0001CHICKENFOOT – Chickenfoot (2009 Redline CD/DVD reissue)

This reissue of the fantastic debut Chickenfoot CD is a decent but imperfect repackage. The music is so good, I can’t stay mad about the double-dip. You can get this cheap if you hunt, so keep that in mind. First let’s talk about the music, before we get into the reissue.

I will go out on a limb and call this the best album Sammy Hagar had made in many years, and better than most (if not any) Van Hagar album. Part of the reason is the performances by this cast of pros (Sammy, Joe Satriani, Michael Anthony, Chad Smith), and part of the reason is solid songwriting. What’s left is youthful energy, which this band of old dudes has plenty of.

The first obvious highlight for me was the glorious return of the Van Hagar harmony vocals. Michael Anthony was responsible for a lot of that in Van Halen, and it was just a joy to hear him harmonizing with Sammy again. Close your eyes and you’d think you’re listening to some lost Halen track circa For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. Then you recognize those warm Satriani guitar tones and tricks. Finally you hear Chad Smith on the drums, making it all sound easy. This actually sounds like a real band.

Highlights: The single “Oh Yeah”, “Sexy Little Thing”, “Runnin’ Out” (definite sounds like a long lost Halen tune), “My Kinda Girl” (my kinda chorus!), and “Turnin’ Left” (which just grooves).  “Bitten By The Wolf” has this bluesy Satriani-circa-Flying kind of vibe.  There are no weak songs, and nothing which doesn’t fit the direction of this band.  There’s no point going song by song.  Each one features the stellar playing, singing and melody that you would expect for this band of pros.  Satch’s tone is rich, beautiful and perfect.  This is most definitely hard rock.  There’s nothing too wussy about Chickenfoot.  Even the ballad “Learning to Fall” has the integrity of an outtake from Flying in a Blue Dream.  It’s hard not to enjoy something with Joe Satriani on guitar!

“Bitten By The Wolf”, of course, was the original bonus track on the vinyl and download versions of Chickenfoot. Now you can get it on a proper CD with this two-disc reissue. In addition you get an hour long DVD. This disc contains a couple fun music videos, interviews with each guy, and some excellent live stuff. Two things I noticed right away on the live stuff: One, Joe plays a lot more solos. Watching him play is a real treat. I’ve never seen Joe play up close on a DVD before. My God this man’s fingers move fast. Plus he’s entertaining as a showman. Two, Chad Smith is great to watch. On CD he makes it all sound easy. On DVD he makes it all look easy. This tower of a man just locks in and powers through. Awesome to watch. No wonder he is so in-demand with everybody from the Dixie Chicks on down.

Of note:  There are many who do not like this album as much as I.  Craig Fee from 107.5 Dave FM told me that this record was “disappointing, like seeing an all Toronto Maple Leafs NHL All-Star team, standing there in their blue jerseys.”

I only had two disappointments. One, the original CD had no booklet, only a link to download a pdf file. That remains so on this edition. I would have loved a booklet. Two, the original also had this awesome heat-sensitive packaging. The cover was almost entirely black, but when you placed your warm hand on it, pictures of the band members appeared. That packaging is not a part of this edition. Instead, the black has been replaced with white and now you can see the pictures unobscured. Two very small qualms. I still own the original CD and a vinyl copy to boot, so it’s not a big deal to me.

Get your buzz on!

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Van Halen – Best Of Volume I (1996)

I will be live on the Craig Fee Show on 107.5 Dave FM this afternoon 12/01/14, around 5:20 pm Ontario time, to discuss one of the tracks included on this album. Listen live by clicking right here to stream!

EDIT – Show went great!  Thanks for listening!

This review is a companion piece to my previous “Van Halen (Not Van Hagar!)” series of reviews:
Part 1: The Early Years (Zero – 1977) VH_0003
Part 2:
On Fire (Van Halen – 1978)
Part 3: Somebody Get Me A Doctor (Van Halen II – 1979)
Part 4: Everybody Wants Some!! (Women and Children First – 1980)
Part 5: Push Comes to Shove (Fair Warning – 1981)
Part 6: Intruder (Diver Down – 1982)
Part 7: House of Pain (1984 – 1984)
Coda: Can’t Get This Stuff No More & Me Wise Magic (1996 singles)

VH BEST OF V1_0001VAN HALEN – Best Of Volume I (1996 Warner)

Van Halen’s first “greatest hits” compilation was historic in its fallout.  The band had talked for years about putting out a “best of” set, with one disc of Dave and one disc of Sammy.  That never happened but the concept continued to be discussed in the Van Halen camp, with Sammy Hagar adamantly against it.  When Hagar’s friend and Van Halen’s manager Ed Lefler passed away, he was replaced by Canadian Ray Danniels, who was also handling Rush, Extreme, and King’s X. Hagar and Danniels never quite saw eye to eye and when push came to shove, Hagar refused to participate in the recording of new music for the compilation.  The Van Halen camp considered this to be highly hypocritical of Sammy, since he had done just that for his own solo “greatest hits” CD, Unboxed (1994).  All of this led to a tense telephone standoff with Eddie Van Halen himself, the revelation that Ed had already started working on new songs with former singer David Lee Roth, and Hagar quitting the band.  (On top of all that, and unbeknownst to Hagar or Roth, was that was Van Halen were also eyeballing Gary Cherone, who Ray Danniels brought in from one of his other bands, Extreme. They had even recorded some test tracks with Mitch Malloy who ultimately turned the gig down.)

When Best Of Volume I was finally released in fall of 1996, there was so much confusion in the air that many fans really had no idea who was in Van Halen or what the hell was going on.   At the Record Store, I had one guy come in and return this on the day of release, October 22, 1996.

“Yeah, I want to return this CD,” he said.  “I already have these songs.”

What?!  You couldn’t tell that from the title Best Of Volume I?

That’s indicative of the confusion in fandom.  This guy had assumed, like many people, that Van Halen had a brand new album of songs out with David Lee Roth singing.

VH BEST OF V1_0004Another common urban myth was that there was such a thing as Best Of Volume II.  People would constantly ask if we had it, when it was coming out, and sometimes even insist they had seen it before in stores.  When asked when Best Of Volume II was coming out again and again, I started answering “18 years”, because that’s how long it took for them to come out with Volume I.

T-Rev wrote up a quickie review for our store newsletter.  He praised the remastering job, but bemoaned that only one song was included from Van Halen II, and that there wasn’t enough Dave in general.  I would agree.  At the very least, a song like “Can’t Stop Loving You” should have been ditched for something else like “Everybody Wants Some!!”  However, to put this into context, in 1996 that was one of Van Halen’s most recent hit singles, just over a year old.   The rest of the album takes tracks from each studio record (sans Diver Down which Eddie doesn’t speak too highly of). The most notable omissions were “Hot For Teacher” (only available on the Japanese release of Best Of) and “Love Walks In” (which I can do without). Presumably there would have been more tracks on a Volume II, which never materialized.  (18 years my arse!)

To me, the hits part of this disc is just preamble. The reason fans went out and bought this CD was the return of David Lee Roth on the two new singles. Nobody cared about the hits they already had.  Indeed, as implied by T-Rev’s review, most of us didn’t really agree with most of the hits selected.

They stuck “Can’t Get This Stuff No More” and “Me Wise Magic”, the first new songs by the original Van Halen in over a decade, at the tail end of the CD.  As fans, we were elated to hear new music that clearly hearkened back to the pre-synth, pre-1984 sound of Van Halen. Dave’s voice was lower and less powerful, but no less expressive.  His delivery is pure gleeful Dave, even on these darker songs. His lyrics (which according to Roth, Eddie didn’t like) are as Diamond Dave as ever.  As far as guitar goes, Eddie’s letting it, basing both songs purely on riffage. This was a pretty cool about-face from the too-commercial sounds of Balance.

Neither song was really single-worthy, but they would have made solid album cuts, had this incarnation of Van Halen continued to make an album.  Of course, that didn’t happen.  Best Of Volume I is, thus far, the only place you can buy them.  And that means if you love original Van Halen, you need to buy this album.

For Van Hagar fans, there was the excellent newbie “Humans Being”, with its angry modern verses and bright shiny chorus.  I’ve always liked the song, because of the chorus and Eddie’s guitar.  The verses, not so much, but as a song it holds together as something different for Van Halen.  In some ways it pointed the way forward to Van Halen 3.  This is the only ‘Halen album where you can get “Humans Being”, saving you from having to buy the terrible Twister soundtrack.

(Missing is a track called “Respect The Wind” billed by Eddie & Alex Van Halen from the same soundtrack.  It’s not really that good, and it’s not billed as Van Halen the band, so seek as per your own needs.  Presumably, “Respect the Wind” was from the batch of music that they were working on while Sammy refused to record.  See KeepsMeAlive for a review of the Twister soundtrack CD.)

VH BEST OF V1_0003

Roth mentioned in his autobiography Crazy From the Heat that he hated the cover art and booklet for this.  It looked devoid and sucked dry of all life.  I would agree.  A music video was planned but nixed.  The concept was the trio of Michael Anthony and Eddie & Alex Van Halen playing on a stage, with a big screen behind them of Dave singing.  Insulted, Roth refused to do it.

Of interest, if you’re lucky enough to own a first pressing of this CD, you might have a mini-rarity.  There was a version with an error on it.  You may own a very rare alternate mix of “Runnin’ With the Devil”, released by mistake, where the verses, chorus and solos were arranged in a different order than that of the originally released album version. Take a listen and see if you’re one of the few.  That version was quickly discontinued and corrected.*

3.5/5 stars. Despite the brevity, this album doesn’t overstay the party.


*My friend at 107.5 Dave FM, Craig Fee, had this to add about the “error” mix of “Runnin’ With the Devil”:

You just solved a huge mystery for me. Something that has been bugging me for YEARS.

When I first moved here, I was listening to Dave FM one day. I heard this fucked up version of “Runnin’ With The Devil” with the “whoooooo whooooooo” part at the end edited out. I mentioned it, but Darryl didn’t do anything about it. 5 years later, we are still playing this version. It sounded like a bad edit made by an overzealous producer who was trying to do something to the song.

Until this post, I had no idea why somebody would butcher the song like that. Now I know why. The majority of the big ‘hits’ were dubbed from that CD.

I have the version I bought the day it was released. I listened to it twice. I have no idea if it’s the edited version.

Craig advised me to load both versions (Best Of and Van Halen I) into Audacity and sync them.  I did and I could see right away visually that they did not match up.  I hit “play” and everything was synced until around 1:15.  Then, as Craig puts it, “all hell breaks loose” and the two versions completely deviate.    So apparently I do have both.

RUNNING WITH THE DEVIL WAVEFORM COMPARISON

 

The only modification I made to the tracks was to reduce the version from Van Halen in volume by 7%, so they were roughly the same.

More VH:

VAN HALEN – 3 (Collectors’ tin 1998)
VAN HALEN – 5150 (1986 Warner Bros.)
VAN HALEN – A Different Kind of Truth (2012)
VAN HALEN – Balance (1995 Warner – Japanese version included)
VAN HALEN – “Best of Both Worlds” (1986 Warner 7″ single)
VAN HALEN – The Best of Both Worlds (2005 Warner)
VAN HALEN – “Can’t Stop Loving You” (Parts 1 & 2, inc. collector’s tin)
VAN HALEN – “Right Now”(1992 cassette single, Warner)
BRIAN MAY & FRIENDS – Star Fleet Project (w/ Edward Van Halen)

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

REVIEW: Van Halen – “Can’t Get This Stuff No More” / “Me Wise Magic” (1996)

VAN HALEN (Not Van Hagar!) Coda: Can’t Get This Stuff No More

Welcome to the final installment in my latest series of reviews at mikeladano.com:  an in-depth look at all the classic VAN HALEN albums, with David Lee Roth.  If you missed anything, don’t fret: the complete list is right below.  Dig in!

Part 1: The Early Years (Zero – 1977) VH_0003
Part 2:
On Fire (Van Halen – 1978)
Part 3: Somebody Get Me A Doctor (Van Halen II – 1979)
Part 4: Everybody Wants Some!! (Women and Children First – 1980)
Part 5: Push Comes to Shove (Fair Warning – 1981)
Part 6: Intruder (Diver Down – 1982)
Part 7: House of Pain (1984 – 1984)
Coda: Can’t Get This Stuff No More (Best Of Volume I – 1996)

VAN HALEN – “Can’t Get This Stuff No More” / “Me Wise Magic” (1996 Warner promo singles)

Van Halen had been doing just fine, thank-you-very-much, with Sammy Hagar for a decade.  There had always been rumors that they were on the verge of a split with Hagar.  I remember hearing those rumors on MuchMusic in 1987, around the time Sammy had released his self-titled solo album.  The rumors returned when Sammy released his Unboxed compilation in 1994.  When the split did finally occur in 1996, it was explosive.  Especially when Van Halen announced that they had resumed work with David Lee Roth, and two brand new songs featuring his voice would be released on the forthcoming Best Of Volume I album.

A somewhat embarrassing MTV Awards appearance by the reunited Van Halen stoked the fire. They presented an award to a stunned looking Beck, who thanked them in his speech. Dave, always the ham, made the most of the opportunity to address the crowd. Edward looks uncomfortable, keeping his distance and trying keep the subject on the “Best Male Video” award.

As predicted, the reunion was strictly temporary.  A tense studio situation (with new producer Glen Ballard) produced two cuts.  The first, “Can’t This Stuff No More”, was considerably darker than most of the Van Hagar tunes the band has been putting out.  You can hear some quiet organ overdubs, but it is otherwise void of keyboards.  Roth uses his lower voice, as he had on his previous solo album Your Filthy Little Mouth.  Eddie’s guitar sounds a bit like his work on 1984, but with a much fatter tone.  As a single, “Can’t Get This Stuff No More” is a bit of a disappointment.  If it had accompanied a whole album of new material, it would have made an excellent album cut.

“Me Wise Magic” is the one with the catchy chorus.  It too has a dark tone to it, perhaps reflective of the mood in the Van Halen camp.  Roth again uses his low voice, until the chorus when he lets those patented Dave shrieks loose.  They’re older, more ragged and tamed, but it’s that same Diamond Dave “charasma!” that we had missed for so long.  The chorus isn’t bad, but the song doesn’t boast one of those classic guitar riffs that albums such as Women and Children First were loaded with.  There’s no mistaking the player as Edward, especially come solo time, but it is undeniable that these two “new” songs lack a certain magical aura.   Both would have made excellent album songs, surrounded by others of different tempos and types.  As “new” compositions on a greatest hits collection of questionable intent…

3.5/5 stars

Whether you are traveller or tourist, this is the end of the ride; the series stops here.  We know what happened next:  Van Halen 3, inactivity, followed by years of confounding turbulence.  Finally, the album A Different Kind of Truth (2012), and redemption.

REVIEW: Van Halen – 1984 (1984)

VAN HALEN (Not Van Hagar!) Part 7: House of Pain

VH_0003My latest series of reviews at mikeladano.com is an in-depth look at all the classic VAN HALEN albums, with David Lee Roth.  Jump in!

Part 1: The Early Years (Zero – 1977)
Part 2:
On Fire (Van Halen – 1978)
Part 3: Somebody Get Me A Doctor (Van Halen II – 1979)
Part 4: Everybody Wants Some!! (Women and Children First – 1980)
Part 5: Push Comes to Shove (Fair Warning – 1981)
Part 6: Intruder (Diver Down – 1982)

INTERMISSION – “Beat It”

Edward Van Halen picked up the phone.  On the other end was a man claiming to be “Quincy Jones”, asking Eddie if he was available to play on an album.  Not knowing the name “Quincy Jones” and assuming it was a crank call, Eddie slammed down the phone yelling, “Fuck off, asshole!”  Only a followup phone call from Michael Jackson clarified the situation.  Quincy Jones, the legendary record producer, was working on the new Michael Jackson album.  Could Eddie come by and play a guitar solo on an upbeat, driving song?

What Eddie laid down (in reportedly two takes) was selected by Guitar magazine as the greatest guitar solo of the 1980’s.

In one tension-filled solo, Eddie threw every trick from his bag: whammy dives, complex neo-classical trills, hammer-ons, pull-offs, tapping, harmonics, squeals, and finally a big fat pick slide.

If one wants to hear what Eddie Van Halen sounds like, all they need to do is play “Beat It”.

VH 194_0001VAN HALEN – 1984 (MCMLXXXIV) (1984 Warner)

Having compromised his artistic instincts on 1982’s Diver Down, Edward Van Halen refused to do the same again.  He and longtime engineer Donn Landee proceeded to build 5150, Eddie’s home recording studio.  There he was free to experiment with the synthesizers that had begun to creep into Van Halen albums.  When the studio was complete, Eddie felt that he had more control.

But there were other issues beginning to surface.  The Michael Jackson cameo, for example.  Roth had reportedly vetoed previous offers for Van Halen to do guest appearances on records.  (Van Halen had also appeared on the semi-obscure Brian May and Friends EP Star Fleet Project.)  When Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson extended the offer to appear on “Beat It”, Edward did it without telling the others in the band.  Roth claims he never would have objected to Edward working with an artist of Quincy Jones’ stature, but the feelings of betrayal had set in.

Edward and Roth both recall that Van Halen had the main keyboard hook from “Jump” for years, and had submitted it for consideration twice.  Roth and producer Ted Templeman rejected it both times, wishing Eddie to keep the focus on his guitar playing.  The third time was the charm, and Roth finally agreed to write lyrics for the song, now titled “Jump”.  Another synth piece of Eddie’s, now called “1984” was used on the album to precede “Jump”.

It’s impossible to underestimate the impact of “Jump”.  Those big fat Oberheim keys were unlike any that Van Halen had used before.  The song’s success made other bands pay attention, who were quick to begin adding keyboards themselves.  The trends this song ushered included the successes of Bon Jovi, Europe and the like.  Veteran bands like Kiss started adding keyboards to their live shows.  “Jump” was a perfect storm.  It captured Van Halen’s already likable and cool party-hearty spirit, with the cool new wave bands that had replaced punk.  Eddie’s tasteful guitar solo ensured that his fans would still listen to every note in order to figure out just how the hell he did that.  Meanwhile, who couldn’t love his sheepish grin in the music video?

If you listen carefully during the fade, you’ll hear a familiar guitar riff.  Can you name it?  That very riff was recycled in 1991 on Van Hagar’s song “Top of the World”!

“Panama” was also a single, no keyboards this time!  David made the ladies faint every time during the middle break.  The high-flying video showed their sense of humour and electric stage show.  If any fan was left doubting after “Jump”, then “Panama” assured them that all was alright.  Guitar pyrotechnics and cool lyrics are where’s it at.

What’s not to like about “Top Jimmy”?  Perfectly fusing his experimental and hard rocking sides, Eddie created a hook using guitar harmonics for “Top Jimmy”.  There’s the patented Van Halen backing vocals, a smokin’ song, and David Lee Roth running the show.  This is one of those album cuts that’s every bit as good as the better known tracks.  Same with “Drop Dead Legs”.  Alex’s steady beat, Eddie’s smoldering riff, and Roth’s leathery moan are a trifecta of perfection.  If you listen to the riff, you’ll notice Eddie’s innovative way of using a whammy bar in a musical fashion, as an actual part of the music.  Towards the end, Eddie goes into a different riff, and solos his way to the side’s fade-out.

“Sit down, Waldo!”

Dave’s knack for video scored a home run with “Hot For Teacher”.  You wouldn’t necessarily think a song like this, a hard shuffle with a lot of talking in it, would make for hit.  Hell it opens with 30 seconds of nothing but drums!  “Hot For Teacher” remains a pinnacle of hard rock music videos.  There’s the humour, the girls, the cool car, and of course “Waldo” who got the last laugh, didn’t he?

“I’ll Wait” is the third and last synth track on the album (including “1984”).  It too was chosen as a single, and like all the others, it has stood the test of time.  “I’ll Wait” is a very transitional song.  Roth keeps it cool, but musically, Van Hagar was already in sight.  The echo of later songs like “Feels So Good” can be heard in that throbbing keyboard.  “I’ll Wait” (credited to the band and Michael McDonald) went through a period in the 1990’s of sounding dated, but today it sounds timeless.  Rather than commercial, today the keyboards sound classy.  The guitar solo is simple and full of feel.

Ominous guitar tapping and shredding opens “Girl Gone Bad”, a devastating assault of Eddie’s most aggressive guitar.  A song like this absolutely needed to be on 1984 in order to maintain the band’s metal credentials.  Many teenagers injured their wrists trying to pick as fast as Edward.  Meanwhile, Roth does his very best Robert Plant impression during the middle section.  “Yeah, ahh, ahh, owww!  Oooooooowhoah!  Ma…ma…ma…oh!”

Finally, exhumed from the band’s distant past is “House of Pain”.   This song was always one of Van Halen’s heaviest, featuring a chugging metallic riff.  Eddie’s increasingly interesting solos have evolved, and they make the last couple minutes of “House of Pain” absolutely indispensable for anyone wanting to know anything about the electric guitar.

As “House of Pain” fades out and 1984 comes to close, a sadness overtakes me.  The end sounds abrupt; unfinished.  The album was so good, so great, that I want to hear more.  But there is no more.

VH 194_0002

Another successful tour followed the 1984 album, and the band were burned out.  David Lee Roth got the covers EP Crazy From the Heat out of his system.  There was also some kind of companion movie to the EP in the works, something that bothered the Van Halen brothers greatly.  After a while, the band settled in to begin writing the next album, their seventh.  It was not to be.  According to Alex Van Halen in a fall 1991 M.E.A.T Magazine interview, David Lee Roth fired the entire band.

Van Halen had to replace a frontman, a difficult thing to do in any circumstances, much less when that frontman was David Lee Roth.  In the meantime, David Lee Roth had to replace an entire band.  A difficult thing, especially when the lead guitar player of that band is oft-recognized as the best in the world.

Both bounced back.  Van Halen pondered a number of singers including Patty Smyth of Scandal, before meeting Sammy Hagar.  Hagar’s energy and musical chops helped fill Roth’s sizable shoes.  Meanwhile, Roth chose to replace Van Halen with not one but two acclaimed virtuosos.  On bass was ex-Talas maestro Billy Sheehan.  On guitar, from Frank Zappa’s band, little Stevie Vai.  Throw in the talented Gregg Bissonette on drums, and you had one hell of a band.

Both artists would find 1984 hard to top in the eyes of the most stubborn old fans.  It’s hard to blame them.  1984 is a very special record, and quite arguably Van Halen’s very best.

VH 194_00045/5 stars

And that is all.

Or not…

They did try again, in 1996.  We’ll be taking a look at that next time.