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VAN HALEN

1984
Rating: 6
Squirm factor: 3
   Van Halen could have been a great band, if only they had had someone to either a) play some decent guitar solos, or b) at least stop Eddie from playing them.
   The group has an excellent sound. Bassist Michael Anthony is a one-trick pony — playing the tonic really fast — but it's a powerful effect that really drives the tunes, and drummer Alex Van Halen makes up for his complete inability to swing by being fast and noisy (apparently the salesman at the drum store didn't tell him the hi-hat can be played either open or closed). The real secret to the band's near-greatness is in the guitar parts, though. Eddie Van Halen knows his way around the guitar, that's for sure. There are dozens of innovative concepts throughout this record, from the muted suspended chords at the end of "Jump" to the New Age-style combination of finger-picking and tapping that opens "Top Jimmy" to the not-quite-power chords in the chorus of "Panama." The man is a genius at mapping out innovative guitar parts
   But the solos are a hash. The songs are grooving along nicely, and then all of a sudden it's like they spliced in a different record played at the wrong speed. Impressive technically they may be, with a million notes a minute, but they don't reflect on the tune or the riff well at all. In fact, many of them are just plain discordant. The guitar solos take a lot of the pleasure out of this album for me. There is one excellent guitar solo, in "I'll Wait", which builds gently into a Romantic motif that works well against the chords pattern in the keyboards.
   The poor choices in the solo playing reflect another unfortunate tendency of the album — the mixture of brilliant and lame ideas, even in the same song. "Top Jimmy" has that wonderful guitar intro (which is repeated as a bridge) but then turns into a standard boogie tune. "Jump" is quite simply one of the best songs of the 1980's; it takes spooky synth tones, combines them with a keyboard line that stands in its simplicity as the catchiest thing Van Halen ever did, lays on a pounding rhythm section and incoherent but rabble-rousing lyrics to create a unique recording. Yet when they try to repeat the formula with "I'll Wait" it's a weak Simple Minds knockoff covering lyrical territory already driven into the ground by J. Geils' "Centerfold." "Hot for Teacher" starts off impressively with Alex's double-tracked super-speedy drumming, but it seems underwritten somehow, as they ride that old blues vamp under the verses to no particular point. A bridge, or even a third verse would make it seem less like a demo and more like a real song.
   That's the trap you're always running into with metal bands, though. They love that heavy sound, and sometimes think it's enough to generate any music that's fast and loud, so they're not particularly selective. With Van Halen, we're lucky the good ideas outnumber the bad, but that's mostly due to the sheer talent present, not to any planning on the band's part. Still, if you love interesting guitar lines, you owe it to yourself to spin this disk a few times.

READER COMMENTS
  • From Mark Prindle: Screw you for not liking Van Halen enough!!!!
  • From Jeff Whiting: You guys are typical critics. Tearing apart solos you couldn't have come up with yourselves. There may be better guitarists out there, but Eddie's solos are not only innovative as you pointed out, but are perfectly phrased. Frank Zappa had the perfect line for guys (critics) like you in "Packard Goose". He said, "Fuck all those assholes, I don't need no excuse for being what I am." Why don't you do something original, asswipes?
  • From Rusty Handle: You are dead on about that solo business. I've never understood why others get so drooly over wanky business like Eddie Van Halen or even Steve Vai. I mean, sure you can have all the chops of 30 fingers, but what's the point if the solo doesn’t fit the context of the song? I'd rather be listening to Ron Asheton playing three wah'd notes for a minute than hearing Van Halen pump out 300 notes in 10 seconds. Wanky son of a bitch. Oh, yes and absolutely great site!
  • From Ordok1: Initially, I would have given this album 4; however, bearing in mind that this record is only 32 minutes in duration – it will suffice to say that your rating of six is about accurate due to the fact that its meagre length is in some respects (paradoxically) a godsend to the listener rather than the reality of ripping the punter off with banal 'cock rock' lyrics, mixed with possibly tampered and speeded up guitar solos whenever appropriate.
    I actually remember buying this album, about a year or so after its release - pondering over the fact that the whole of this trash could have fitted on one side of an LP; thus giving the unfortunate purchaser some recompense by providing them with an elegiac flip side containing absolutely nothing! (better than absorbing the music within Van Halen's 1984).
    Also, I noticed that Mark Prindle has posted a comment with regards to this album - however, do not be troubled, because take it from me, there should be a law which allows the man to be shot at dawn due to his inaccurate, pious and sanctimonious views on music in general which is out there for the world to see on his crap website.
    Also, do not be fooled by the regular input you receive from the ingratiating CosmicBen. This person, whomever he/she is, has a complete website providing a general synopsis on Neil Young records that he/she has actually not listened to! How this is possible, God only knows.
    Best regards, keep up the good work from an avid rock fan from the UK, Liverpool

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