Van Halen - Van Halen review



Reviewer:
6.0

364 users:
8.76
Band: Van Halen
Album: Van Halen
Release date: February 1978


01. Runnin' With The Devil
02. Eruption
03. You Really Got Me [The Kinks cover]
04. Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love
05. I'm The One
06. Jamie's Cryin'
07. Atomic Punk
08. Feel Your Love Tonight
09. Little Dreamer
10. Ice Cream Man [John Brim cover]
11. On Fire


While the New Wave of British Heavy Metal was underway eight time zones away, the Californian rockers that made up Van Halen finally got into the studio in 1977 and recorded basically everything they had - including cover songs, a very common practice for early hard rock albums - live in making Van Halen, one of the most celebrated debuts of all time.

I find Van Halen's place in the heavy metal pantheon, though, suspect. For all the fanfare that the band received for their live shows, essentially embarrassing and outclassing a meandering Black Sabbath on tour at the very end of the Ozzy era, early American metal saw the likes of Kiss, Alice Cooper and Aerosmith. All the energy, charisma and unique stage antics that Van Halen built its reputation on seem more concentrated in the band's precedents. What those bands lacked, though, was the kind of guitar hero that was Eddie Van Halen.

It's Eddie who is the probably the first point of interest for most Van Halen listeners, and it's in Eddie and the composition of the album that one of the most important questions about music in general, not just heavy metal, emerges for me: Why do we listen to music? My best guess is that those who rate Van Halen as highly as they do come to the music for that visceral response - nodding the head, tapping the fingers and just generally having a good, rocking time. On that basis, Van Halen excels. You'd be hard-pressed to find a contemporaneous album that is having more fun with itself.

But one of the most important things I listen for when sitting down with an album is whatever that intangible thing is that draws me in and commands my attention. I don't particularly like having music on in the background, and Van Halen thrives on being background music you can air-guitar to while tidying. It doesn't take me on the same kind of journey that Destroyer, Welcome To My Nightmare or Toys In The Attic does, stitched together by smart transitioning and peaks and troughs, or reward me for paying it more attention on subsequent listens.

Instead, Van Halen comes out guns blazing, Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth doing a tag-team effort on the ears but without much substance to make the tracks very distinguishable in structure or movement. Even "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love", my favorite of the bunch, in a kind of a once-in-a-while playlist track, and it's only in "Atomic Punk" - where the rhythm section gets to go a bit mental and toe-to-toe with the other half of the band - that I find myself having a reaction much stronger than "Wow. Eddie Van Halen can really play guitar."

That question - Why do we listen to music? - is always interesting to ask others and ask yourself, because the answers can certainly change over time. But having spent decades occasionally coming back to Van Halen, trying to find something I missed, the only thing it and the band have helped me to understand about my listening preferences is that I want something more than just a good time.


Rating breakdown
Performance: 8
Songwriting: 5
Originality: 4
Production: 5

Written by SeanC | 10.09.2019


 


Guest review disclaimer:
This is a guest review, which means it does not necessarily represent the point of view of the MS Staff.


Comments

Comments: 13   Visited by: 63 users
10.09.2019 - 18:26
Ansercanagicus
I read your review and had to oppose my contrarian opinion.

1) they didn't record "everything they had" and cover songs - implying they had really little. If you heard their early demos you'd know most of the songs off VH1, VH2 and Women And Children First were ready mid 70s.

2) like you said, the most important of the album is Eddie's guitarwork. But it goes beyond "nodding the head and tapping the fingers". Eddie's a noteworthy composer in the metal scene, especially for the odd choice of notes he makes. His music is full of chromatism, surprising transpositions, use of noise, open strings, and his songstructures, melodies and harmonies are without par.

Often I come back to VH are realise how rich this music is in terms of fresh ideas. Each and every song has something special. Not to mention his tremendous tone. Not to mention that Eddie's a pionner for most guitar techniques, tapping, sliding, pinch harmonics, legato, tremolo, whammy bar... He did not invent all of this of course, but the way he uses is always relevent. Why do we listen to music? I listen to Van Halen (maybe not particularly this album but the others too) because he never fails to incorporate crazy ideas into his songs ; sometimes it doesn't make a great song, but it's surprising, interesting and inspiring on the technical level. I also like how he splices lots of different segments to craft a song.

so yeah, "songwriting 5 ; originality 4" ?? I'm upset.

While paradoxically, your favorite song is "Ain't Talkin' About Love", which is the most deprived of what I just described, with just a Am arppegio for a riff (repeating for the whole song), a lazy solo, and twice of it.

(Ok I admit "Running With The Devil" is short of genius too)

Eruption ! Eruption... yeah it's a bit noisy, but what a solo !

(Ok I admit "You Really Got Me" is short of... listen to the lead solo and all the little fills Eddie does though)

"I'm The One" ! that shuffle rhythm is crazy too, don't tell me it's worth a 4 in originality, I've never heard a song like this before, nor after. It's intrictate to play (while it's not grandiloquent wankery). And the bluesy plural singing at the end is neat.

"Jamie's Crying"'s got a fantastic riff and chord structure. It's made out of nothing basically, but it works, and Eddies shines with the main riff like he's a guitar god or something. He's just a clever composer. The rest of the song is pretty mellow.

what about the intro for "Atomic Punk" ? Evidence that Eddies likes a lot to experiment with his sound, and knows how to use it in a song. As you said the pace is rather metal-like. In fact I wouldn't speak of heavy metal for the other songs, or VH in general ; it's rather hard rock.

"Feel Your Love Tonight" and all the vocal harmonies. C'mon. And note all the transpositions this song has.

"Little Dreamer" is neat too... Impressively, Eddie spends a lot of time not playing at all, between two chords. He's just companioning the bass. I might sound like a tool or a fanboy, but not every guitarist does that. Most of the time guitarist want to fill all the space.

"Ice Cream Man" is a cover song, but it's all damn good too

"On Fire": that sounds he makes while muting all the strings and only smothered harmonics come out. It's a nice idea too. The song is pretty metal flavored too. And the "fiiiire" choir ? maybe not well executed but it's a nice idea too. I like the demo version of this song more.

Anyway... The songs are short, maybe some feel bland... Safe if you know what to listen to.
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10.09.2019 - 18:26
Bad English
Masterchief
How poor that time people had in metal, best what happened was 90 and after, today we have much more to chose, thay have what they had, we have much mlore. After teenage days this band is far away from my lust, even David era is ok, few good songs
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I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing
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10.09.2019 - 19:14
SeanC
Written by Ansercanagicus on 10.09.2019 at 18:26

I read your review and had to oppose my contrarian opinion.

...


Thanks for the detailed response! I think there are always going to be some things I won't fully appreciate (or even just understand) by not being a guitarist. I'm glad you have a strong connection with the album; it's nice reading anything when you can tell the person has passion. I definitely think I'm in the minority on this one. This has just always been a head-scratcher of a band and album for me when I hear and see people rate them alongside stuff like Sabbath and Maiden.
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10.09.2019 - 19:34
Ansercanagicus
To complete my answer, it is true that VH's albums are weak in some ways. You can't spin any of them and expect pure bliss for their whole length. There always are filler tracks, uninspired songs, the blame is often on the production lacking subtllety. It's a bit disappointing. But I can highlight a bunch of awesome tracks, and at a smaller scale, ideas in songs.

If you like the metal part especially, maybe listen to "Judgement Day" off For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.

If I was to compare VH to Iron Maiden, i'd say that of course it's not the same mood at all. Also, Iron Maiden managed to release succesful albums one by one for years, but ultimately it's always the same chord progressions coming back, the same song structure, the same licks and scale for the leads etc... VH is more experimental, and while it doesn't pay off for albums, it does for songs and their general legacy as a band. Did Iron Maiden ever pulled out a song as tremendous as Hot For Teacher ? or played with their volume knob long enough to have such a good idea than Cathedral ?

etc...
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10.09.2019 - 19:58
nikarg
Old Nick
Written by Ansercanagicus on 10.09.2019 at 19:34

Did Iron Maiden ever pulled out a song as tremendous as Hot For Teacher ?

Dozens I'd say, not just one. But comparing IM with VH is like comparing apples to oranges. Different styles, different music. Like, if I tell you that Empire Of The Clouds is "more tremendous" than Hot For Teacher what kind of comparison would that be?

Eddie is of course a guitar god, no doubt about that.
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11.09.2019 - 00:00
JoHn DoE
6 is a harsh rating. And VH has worse albums than the debut. What rating will those get? LOL
So the VH worship or popularity is suspect? I agree but they were mainstream darlings, good live band. It helped.
Debut and 1984 are my favorite albums with DLR.
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11.09.2019 - 00:06
SeanC
Written by JoHn DoE on 11.09.2019 at 00:00

6 is a harsh rating. And VH has worse albums than the debut. What rating will those get? LOL
So the VH worship or popularity is suspect? I agree but they were mainstream darlings, good live band. It helped.
Debut and 1984 are my favorite albums with DLR.


For me, 5 and 6 are "average". That's kind of my de facto range unless something is really good or really poor. I think a lot of their albums would probably be similar for me, but I haven't listened to the Hagar stuff in a while. Not necessarily the worship being suspect, because every band will have their worshipers, but the collectively high rating; it really surprises me that this is still in the top 200.
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11.09.2019 - 00:57
JoHn DoE
Written by SeanC on 11.09.2019 at 00:06


For me, 5 and 6 are "average". That's kind of my de facto range unless something is really good or really poor. I think a lot of their albums would probably be similar for me, but I haven't listened to the Hagar stuff in a while. Not necessarily the worship being suspect, because every band will have their worshipers, but the collectively high rating; it really surprises me that this is still in the top 200.


VH's debut is one of their most beloved albums and it is one of those "good time" albums, nothing wrong with that, it's what I was expecting from them And what Eddie was doing in 1978 was rather unique. Nobody played like that.

It's a well written review. Good read
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11.09.2019 - 01:07
Marcel Hubregtse
Grumpy Old Fuck
Production a 5? Even to this day and age the production of Templeman pisses over everything out there. The production is truly a perfect 10. Just listen to how the guitar goes from left to right and back. And that is just one point.
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Yesterday is dead and gone, tomorrow is out of sight
Dawn Crosby (r.i.p.)
05.04.1963 - 15.12.1996

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11.09.2019 - 21:43
Troy Killjoy
perfunctionist
Subjectively I agree with the rating but you've massively under-valued the importance of Van Halen. This isn't to say you have to like them, as music is so differently interpreted, but the review comes across rather ignorant of the history and influence this album still has in the modern rock and metal scenes.

I would also agree that as an album, it's not the most well-constructed, but the individual songs have parts and pieces of interest. From a technical stance, it's bordering on brilliance, if not fully across that line, but for what I typically look for when I sit down and listen to an album, this one offers very little of what I want.
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12.09.2019 - 00:43
SeanC
Written by Troy Killjoy on 11.09.2019 at 21:43

Subjectively I agree with the rating but you've massively under-valued the importance of Van Halen. This isn't to say you have to like them, as music is so differently interpreted, but the review comes across rather ignorant of the history and influence this album still has in the modern rock and metal scenes.

I would also agree that as an album, it's not the most well-constructed, but the individual songs have parts and pieces of interest. From a technical stance, it's bordering on brilliance, if not fully across that line, but for what I typically look for when I sit down and listen to an album, this one offers very little of what I want.


If I understated the importance, that was my bad. This is definitely one of the most influential American hard rock/early heavy metal albums of all time, and I recognize that. The reasons that gave way to that, though, make me think people either weren't buying what some of Van Halen's American predecessors were selling or just really valued the technical play above the songwriting.
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12.09.2019 - 00:56
Troy Killjoy
perfunctionist
Written by SeanC on 12.09.2019 at 00:43

If I understated the importance, that was my bad. This is definitely one of the most influential American hard rock/early heavy metal albums of all time, and I recognize that. The reasons that gave way to that, though, make me think people either weren't buying what some of Van Halen's American predecessors were selling or just really valued the technical play above the songwriting.

It was more the overall negative tone of the review that made it seem as though it was being understated as opposed to any specific examples, so it may just be how I read it. I think your latter theory of overvaluing the technicality is a more accurate one as I see that extended to lots of other artists and bands, particularly in the prog and instrumentalist categories where people are so amazed by the techniques and proficiency that they overlook the songwriting suffering from a lack of cohesion. Such is the case with his album, I believe.
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16.09.2019 - 17:46
Mountain King
K i K o
Written by SeanC on 10.09.2019 at 19:14

Written by Ansercanagicus on 10.09.2019 at 18:26

I read your review and had to oppose my contrarian opinion.

...


Thanks for the detailed response! I think there are always going to be some things I won't fully appreciate (or even just understand) by not being a guitarist. I'm glad you have a strong connection with the album; it's nice reading anything when you can tell the person has passion. I definitely think I'm in the minority on this one. This has just always been a head-scratcher of a band and album for me when I hear and see people rate them alongside stuff like Sabbath and Maiden.

I don't like VH albums as much. This might have a few highlights like "Ain't Talkin Bout Love" & "Eruption" but that's it for me. I don't revisit it neither, not do II like their cool guys rock style of music. The guitars are the only real highlight of this album and most of the other VH albums.
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