VAN HALEN — Van Halen (review)

VAN HALEN — Van Halen album cover Album · 1978 · Hard Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
Vim Fuego
The Salvation Army and two bucks led me to a revelation, and a deeper understanding of the wider world around me.

No, I haven’t abandoned a lifelong lack of belief to worship any sort of supernatural being, deity, cult leader, or graven image. Instead, I finally understand something which had hitherto been a mystery to me. Why did a certain sector of the rock community always heap such praise on Van Halen?

My first experiences with Van Halen were with the stadium schlock rock of the ever-dreadful “Jump” and the misogynistic teen wankfest of “Hot For Teacher”. So far, so mediocre. A bit later, I encountered the stomping “Runnin’ With The Devil”. This was more like it. It fuckin’ hard rocking, if not quite metal, but no matter. To this day it remains my favourite Van Halen song. And then there was the cover of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”, which is in take-it-or-leave-it territory.

So where do the Sallies and two bucks come into it? I’m all for good works for the community, regardless of religious affiliation, and so I support the Salvation Army by donating unwanted stuff there so that someone needier than me may get some sort of use out of it, and the Sallies might make a few bucks too. I buy stuff there too, often not out of need, but just because it’s there, and hey, it’s cheap! On one expedition, I was perusing the CD racks. You’re more likely to find Daniel O’Donnell than Dani Filth in these racks, so I wasn’t expecting much. I found a pristine copy of “Van Halen” by Van Halen, and the price was two dollars, so I thought “fuck it, why not?”, and then thought “is it blasphemous to think the word ‘fuck’ in a Sallies shop?”. This was followed by the thought “you don’t believe in God, so therefore, you don’t believe in blasphemy, and you haven’t been struck down by lightning yet, so it’s probably OK.” By the time I got to the counter with my purchases, I had resolved the internalised theological dilemma, and the lady at the counter was more than happy to take my money.

And now for the revelation. Finally, a few days later, I had the opportunity to finally listen to this album.

Fuck. Me. Sideways.

I’ve waited over 40 years to finally hear this album in it’s entirety, and now I get it. Now I get why guitarists rave over Eddie’s technique. Now I get why the Diamond Dave vs. Sammy Hagar debate is important. Now I get why 80s glam metal sounded the way it did – those bands were chasing the dragon, and here’s that addictive high they were after.

It probably helps that the first track is “Runnin’ With The Devil” (good thing the ladies in the Salvation Army shop didn’t see that song title!) What’s the best thing about it? Eddie Van Halen’s fluid, classy soloing? His crunching main riff? David Lee Roth’s soaring vocals? Nope. It’s Michael Anthony’s thudding, hypnotic bass line, which ties in perfectly with Alex Van Halen’s straightforward, solid drums. Michael and Alex are often forgotten in this band, but remember, no Michael and Alex, no foundation for Eddie and Dave to show off.

And then “Eruption”. This is the track which caused so much consternation among budding guitar heroes the world over. Hell, even some pros were stumped by it. One of the Schenkers (jokingly) threatened Eddie Van Halen with physical violence if he didn’t show him how he played this less than two minute interlude. It squeals, shreds, soars, trills, and leaves your jaw lying on the floor. This is absolute mastery of your instrument. And unlike so many other shredding interludes, it’s actually fun to listen to, and doesn’t just reek of fretboard masturbation. And then the cover of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”? Take it or leave it? I’m fuckin’ taking it this time! The new leads Eddie added to what’s a fairly basic song set it off. It makes more sense in the context of this album than on it’s own.

“Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” shows off a quality not often noted when talking about Van Halen – it’s got a strong metal riff to it. Eddie’s solos are what people remember, but the main riff, underpinned by Michael’s driving bass, makes what might ordinarily be a fairly tepid love song into a hard rock masterclass.

And so proceeds the rest of the album. “I’m The One” has a rocking boogie rhythm to it. Eddie’s guitar almost talks on “Jamie’s Crying”. “Atomic Punk” isn’t punk, but it’s got an overdriven gallop to it, like a rocking Judas Priest track. A couple of things haven’t aged well. It was a different time, but “Feel Your Love Tonight” is a bit date-rapey. Unfortunately, this lame duck track seems to be the one most emulated by the 80s hairspray and heels brigade.

The bluesy swagger of “Little Dreamer” pulls things back from the brink. Diamond Dave shines on this track, showing a soulful side to his voice. For all his narcissism and other faults, the guy could fucking sing!

“Ice Cream Man” is a second blues tinged song, with a double entendre laden acoustic intro. Just when it seems the whole song is going to be just guitar and voice, the rest of the band, and the amps kick in, and it turns into an old time rock and roller. Eddie shreds and shreds and shreds, while Dave wails and Elvises it up a bit.

“On Fire” closes the album with another driving rocker of a song, once again ending up somewhere near Judas Priest territory. There were multiple facets to Van Halen shown on this highly impressive debut. The band eventually followed their more mainstream commercial leanings, but there was enough hard and heavy material here to keep the headbangers interested. And that guitar playing… Many people have wanted to play like Eddie Van Halen, but no one else quite cuts it. Every listen reveals another fill, solo, or lead which you missed before. There are hidden depths and details to what seem superficially simple compositions.

All in all, this was two bucks well spent.
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siLLy puPPy wrote:
8 months ago
Hot For Teacher is a hilarious video. So 80s lame which is why it's fun! This is my favorite album by them. They never topped this one. Definately a classic of the ages. Too bad they couldn't repeat the quality on here.

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