Van Halen’s much-ballyhooed ‘reunion’ album with three-quarters of the classic line-up is proof that you CAN go home again.
I was initially sceptical that giving vintage 1970’s material a buff and polish was a great idea, but the resultant album unequivocally establishes such misgivings are unfounded – this is the best Van Halen record since “OU812” and a joy to listen to. It’s a pleasure to be as wrong as I was about this Van Halen line-up as they’ve only gone and kicked my ass completely.
There’s stuff here – “Blood and Fire”, “Big River”, “Chinatown”, “She’s The Woman”, “Stay Frosty” – which stacks up to the best Van Halen material from the late ’70s and early ’80s, both in musical attack and David Lee Roth‘s ‘1,000 aphorisms a minute’ lyrical style. The wit and sass duke it out with Ed’s crunching riffs, reckless abandon soloing and the pretty damn tight Wolfgang and Alex rhythm section, somehow conspiring to present a record which sounds utterly classic, absolutely contemporary and as though the 1984 line-up were cryogenically flash-frozen and dumped out into the modern-day to rock faces anew.
This record recalls the Van Halen of “Van Halen II”, “Women & Children First“ and “Mean Streets” with a contemporary, glistening production sheen and every bit of musical moxie intact and somehow enhanced for a modern audience.
Eddie and Wolfgang – Van Halen & Son, staying frosty and defying the haters. Picture via Esquire.com
Coming back to that latter point, I won’t say that I don’t miss Michael Anthony in the band, but it must be said that Wolfgang more than makes his case to be apart of the new line-up. The backing vocals are very much up to snuff and the new fellow’s bass playing is tight and unfussy, finding the odd moment to add flair in concert with his uncle’s typically impeccable, thunderous double bass attack. The rhythm section, always a key element of Van Halen’s sound, is absolutely present and correct and the envy of any of their peers.
Recent events have suggested to the weary Van Halen fan that you should never expect them to keep things on track for too long but it would be a shame to see this line-up go the way of previous iterations, particularly as the middle-aged romantic typing these words would love the entertain the oft-absurd notion that they could drag their asses over to Europe again and let us see this line-up knock one out of the proverbial park (or mid-sized arena).
So, the short version. Great songs, Eddie’s solos and riffs will melt your face, the rhythm section’s a monster and Dave’s voice is a singular thing of high-pitched, camp, bar room bard beauty. It’s not the album that I expected – it’s something far, far better.
If you’ve been holding off on picking it up, as I was, buy it with confidence – it’s proof that musical reunions can work out for the best. Where the band goes from here is anybody’s guess, but I hope that they summon up the mojo to keep going and make more records of this calibre.