I prefer my reviews to be serious and informative. ‘First Impressions’ allow for a more director’s commentary approach. I can be silly and talk bollox, or make points that only a handful of people will understand. Usually I will deliver insights into my history with similar music as well as into how my mind works and how both of these things change over time. You will have to either possess a fairly detailed understanding of Rock and Metal history and Subgenre conventions or have a second tab open at Wikipedia to fully follow every single point that I make, but don’t let that put you off…I’m not honestly expecting you to know every single riff or tone I’ll point out off by heart.
If you want your own First Impressions article done, just suggest it in the comments. I’ll give anything a shot.
I usually talk about what I know about the genre in these articles. I’ve covered classic rock in my AC/DC entry recently though, and other than that, I’m not sure where Van Halen should go. Hair Metal? They inspired a lot of Hair Metal, but don’t actually fit there.
I’ve been in an irresponsible materialistic mood recently. I’ve planned to stop spending so much on media. What I did instead was buy a boxset of the first six Van Halen albums in HMV’s closing-down sale (although at least it was for a tenner cheaper than it costs on Amazon.) Side note. I love these sort of boxsets. I’ve got ones by Mountain, Foghat, Motorhead and Faith No More, and was planning on getting ones by Alice Cooper & Dream Theater before I got an album in the set by each of them in my last spree (although seeing as how School’s Out sat with me, dodged a bullet there, I suspect), and am still half planning on getting ones for Soundgarden, Saxon, Life Of Agony, Amon Amarth, ZZ Top and Kansas. Its great value and simple. I’d also absolutely recommend fans who are new to bands get the Pantera and SOAD ones I find that getting the ones for those bands.
HOWEVER. I feel that getting that much music at one time is very difficult to consume. I remember my teenage birthdays (and generals gathered in their Christmasses) always involved a big influx of music as that was my main hobby. You’d always get at least one, or possibly more, albums that you never properly absorbed because of the sheer weight of stuff you get at one time.
I know I haven’t really given Iron Maiden’s The Final Frontier as much time as it deserved, I know that out of the Faith No More boxset I don’t really know much of the tracks on Album Of The Year the same as I would’ve if I’d got the albums a month apart each. I know that I confuse which Mountain song is on which album etc.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I guess just that there are advantages and disadvantages to these sets. The disadvantages are analogous to overambitious album acquisition on gift-receiving occasions and now that I think of it, internet culture.
If you can just spotify every album in the world, every day, you don’t have to sit down with something to get your money’s worth, and that could have an impact on albums that are growers. Some of my favourite albums of all time left me cold on first impressions, but I’d spent my money dammit so I was giving them a second and third chance! – If you can download a torrent with all twenty Kiss albums, are you really going to give each one the time it needs to grow on you?
Regardless of disadvantages however, I did go down this road with Van Halen.
When I think back to when I started the First Impressions thing, the biggest ‘wants’ were Ace Of Spades and Back In Black. Now that they’re covered, I’m hard pressed to think of a bigger oversight in my Rock and Metal knowledge than Van Halen. Maybe Never Mind The Bollox, The Velvet Underground And Nico and The White Album are the only more-deserving candidates out there.
I’m not that knowledgeable about Van Halen at all. I’ve heard Montrose’s first two albums which feature Sammy Hagar who was Van Halen’s singer post-1984, but that doesn’t really help. I’ve heard ‘Jump’ or at least the main hook to ‘Jump’ a lot, but like ‘School’s Out’ not really paid attention to the actual full song. I’ve heard the amount of ‘Panama’ that is in Superbad, but no more and never in any other context. I’ve heard ‘Romeo Delight’ on youtube because I wanted to hear the original after falling in love with Annihialtor’s cover of it. And I’ve heard a bit of the opening track to this album in a TV show. Other than that, I have no idea what Van Halen are all about.
The first track is called ‘Runnin’ With The Devil.’ I remember that it was in the Halloween episode of Freaks And Geeks. (If you don’t watch that show, do!). It starts off sounding like a spaceship landing with sound effects, then a clunky bass plod, with a very bright guitar sound over the top of it. Randy Rhodes sorta bright.
The chorus is catchy, in a surprisingly dull sort of way. It sounds ill, but it wants to be enthusiastic, it just cant because it has a really sore stomach. It has a very high amount of cymbal catches for something that sounds as un-heavy as it does, they’re polite cymbal catches. A Metal band covering it could make it sound absolutely gigantic if they hammered the fuck out of the catches. Hatebreed maybe. I don’t really warm to this song, but I guess it could grow on me, there’s something in there, but it’s a little distant.
Next up is the very famous ‘Eruption.’ I remember this track always being used as an unattainable benchmark for guitar virtuosity. I remember being in bands and the guitarists striving to be able to play it. I remember on podcasts, people saying ‘there’s not many guitarists that could play Eruption.’ Its came up in documentaries I’ve watched. I get that its probably hard to play. Its not overly fun to listen to, and I don’t see why its such a big deal, when there were already guitar solos from Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Steve Howe and Ritchie Blackmore at this point, but yeah… its there. I’m never really a huge fan of these things anyway, I don’t particularly like Randy Rhode’s one either. Sorry. I do think that Zack Wylde has done better since, some of his solo only tracks are good, but won’t start down that road. Anyway, I like guitar virtuosity while the music is still going on in the background. Kai Hansen for example, guitar solos left right and centre, neoclassical touches, melody, shred, but he doesn’t devote a whole track to just a solo on its own and people don’t give him the guitar god tag. Anyway, enough politics.
Side note – why is ‘Erruption’ track-two? Surely track one makes more sense, or if you don’t want it to be “just an intro,” then put it as the last song on side-one for some breathing room. Track-two is a real pace-killer.
So; first two tracks. I’m not won over.
Next up is a cover of The Kink’s ‘You’ve Really Got Me’ which is a song I half-like and would watch on music TV to hear the Jimmy Page solo, but not like enough to buy a record over. The cover exists. Its not unpleasant. Still, a cover isn’t really going to win me over to a new band. Three tracks, no sale.
The next track comes on. It aint talking bout love. Its called ‘Aint Talkin Bout Love.’ I love it! This instantly ticks a lot of my boxes. Its kind of dark and bittersweet, there’s an energetic bell-featuring drum beat that comes in and out, its got a similar feel to Kiss’s ‘Dirty Living,’ (the vocals even sound a bit like Peter Criss) as well as Heart’s ‘Barracuda’ if its mum had just passed away. The main guitar solo sounds like driving a convertible car through Miami, during a dusken thunderstorm. It sounds like the bit in the movie after the adversity has nearly broken the hero, but before he triumphs. The bit in Clerks 2 where Dante drives around all sad, and sees Harley Quinn though a window could play this song.
Its very dynamic, in its ups and downs. Its very energetic, in a depressed way, like Pearl Jam’s ‘Down.’ The solo is melodic and tasteful. Just a fine song all around. The tom sound is that beautiful tuneless thud of The Blizzard Of Oz.
The next song to arrive is the metalized boogie-woogie track ‘I’m The One’ which really, really, really sounds like Deep Purple’s Ian Gillen is singing on. It sounds a bit like Deep Purple’s ‘Lazy’ in parts too. It also sounds massively like Lynyrd Skynyrd’s cover of ‘T For Texas’ and Foghat in general (via boogie). Its an absolute Masterclass (yuck at the phrase) in lead guitar all the way through. I’d be very surprised if its not in a Guitar Hero game. Its very cheesy, but I love it. It breaks down into the ‘bap badda, shoobie doo wop’ thing and I should run away resenting it, but there overall energy keeps me still.
‘Jamies Cryin’ comes in next. Its bizarre. It starts off sounding like its going to be heavy, it has an awful 1950s-beach-party ‘honey honey, sugar sugar’ chorus. Its title makes it sound like it was going to be a ballad. It reminds me of the filler on Ozzy’s Bark At The Moon album in general, but no specific song. Its got some very good drumming though. Its very catchy too, despite how much it ruffles my taste’s feathers. When the cowbell comes in during the final fade out, it reminds me of Fu Manchu.
‘Atomic Punk’ sounds like its going to be a Megadeth song based on its intro. Then the riff comes in. Close enough. Its very Diamond Head, in heavy-for-non-heaviness-ness, The vocals remind me a lot of Deep Purple’s ‘Fireball.’ It’s a very good song anyway, and it also helps cement into my brain Van Halen’s link to Metal. I would’ve opened the album with this.
‘Feel Your Love’ comes in next. It sounds like a bizzare mixture of ‘Cat Scratch Fever’ with Kiss’s ‘Hooligan,’ Foghat’s ‘Fool For The City’ and more of that 50s beach music in there too. There’s a riff that sounds heavy as hell until you pay attention to it (when the rhythm section cuts out). Its got very noticeable bass.
It gets followed up by ‘Little Dreamer’ which is a slower, more moody piece. The guitar again has that Miami night feel, I think it’s a mixture of high reverb and the bass turned down. Actually, now that I think about it, its an obvious inspiration for Dimebag’s Cowboy’s era guitar tone. Also, it sounds like Quiet Riot’s ‘Bang Your Head…Metal Health’ which I know from the film The Wrestler. Anyway, the song. It’s the most tasteful thing on the album so far. Its awesome in all ways. I really like them when they’re either being tasteful or metal-like.
As if to react to that. ‘Ice Cream Man’ comes in. It reminds me of Blackfoot’s ‘Spendin Cabbage.’ Its one of those acoustic, rambly 12-bar things. Very stylized. Oh. What’s this? – Ok, it went electric. Oh, very impressive guitar work comes in, lasting for a long time too. Hmm. This song reminds me of Deep Purple’s ‘Lazy’ too.
Its over. ‘On Fire’ replaces it. ‘On Fire’ is great. Its Love Gun style Kiss as opposed to the Peter Criss tracks. The vocals are soooooo Ian Gillan though. Its heavier than that though. Its Diamond Head level again. This could definitely be called a Heavy Metal song. Suits me. If Van Halen do a lot of tracks like this, I’m definitely going to be a fan.
It’s a bit short, but hey. Seems an odd album closer too. I know ‘Go Out On A Bang’ as a theory, but it makes if feel like there’s more to come when there isn’t. (Well, for me there is, because Van Halen II starts… but that’s beside the point.)
I think, before I get used to the track listing, I’m going to re-arrange it in my iTunes to a more pleasing running-order.
Sometimes they do things I really don’t like, but initially so did Lynyrd Skynyrd, Deep Purple and many others. Van Halen have several off-putting aesthetics that I’d have to get used to in order to become a fan but if their ratio of good-to-bad is high enough I’m willing to let that happen.
[Edit – between beginning this entry and coming back to check the spelling, grammar etc. I listened to all six David Lee Roth Van Halen albums in an uninterrupted row on the train home, missing only the final three tracks on 1984. Its all a bit of a blur though, but tracks like ‘Light Up The Sky,’ ‘Loss Of Control’ ‘Mean Street’ and (of course)‘Romeo Delight’ got stars, so there is some hope for a future there.]
Side note – remember what I said about Cowboys From Hell earlier? Well, Listen to ‘Loss Of Control’…