6 April 2015
Van Halen - Balance
For my second Van Halen review I am going to jump ahead nine albums to their tenth release, the 1995 release ‘Balance’. In the time that had past, lots had changed for Van Halen since the release of 'Van Halen I' (cleverly linked here); for one thing this was the fourth Van Halen album to Sammy Hagar on vocals and not David Lee Roth. It would also be the last one to feature Mr Hagar as well as he would leave the band after much in fighting. The whole album was created with the backdrop of the fighting, Michael Anthony was putting his family before the band (as it should be at times) and Eddie Van Halen was starting a new life of sobriety and trying to better himself. It was also on this tour that I first got to see Van Halen and you could tell at the time that everything was far from peachy on stage. Sometimes tension can work in favour of a band, sometimes it can ruin everything. Because of this I have not listened to the album too much over the years, even though when it came out it was a success for them (especially in America where it entered at number one on the Billboard 200). So it is time to find out if the years have be kind to this album....
The album starts with some Tibetan throat music and drops into the main riff of "The Seventh Seal" which Eddie Van Halen claims to have written before Van Halen was even a band.....even though the writing credits for the song have all the member of Van Halen at that time; but sometimes stories are better than facts. Some people say it goes into a darker territory for the band, I do not see that to be honest; apart from that mystic opening, it is a standard Van Halen song. It is a good song though if I am honest and a very good opening to this album. Next we have "Can't Stop Lovin' You" which is a ballad Sammy Hagar had wrote from the point of view of his ex-wife who was still in love with him after they split up. Now knowing that alleged fact, it just seemed to be an OTT ballad about unrequited love that Van Halen started to write over the years (especially with Hagar); however with the addition of that fact, it just seems to take any worth of the song out of the number and shit on it from a great height. Either way, it is a song which has not stood the test of times and would make Whitesnake blush. "Don't Tell Me" is much better, a darker number that I remember if I am honest; Eddie Van Halen sounds pissed off on this song, I think that some of the tension that had been brewing in the band was coming to the surface here and it makes for a really good number that is driven along by a passion that was missing on "Can't Stop Lovin' You". The fourth track on the album is called "Amsterdam", it is about the Dutch capital and its culture under the leaf, it is a song which Eddie Van Halen (a Dutch native with his brother being born in the town of Nijmegen) is now embarrassed about as he thinks that songs should be about planting ideas and not just a song about smoking dope. As this is a thought from the man who introduced "Hot For Teacher" to the world (as good a song as that one is), he really needs a couple of lessons about control and kettle calling the pot black for cheesy lyrics. To be honest, it is still better than "Can't Stop Lovin' You" in that way - this is to be a theme for the rest of the album I feel, also the music itself is really good on this song; but I have to agree with Mr E Van Halen, the lyrics are dumb.
Following on from that confused beast is "Big Fat Money, this is a straight forward rock number that does everything it that this sort of number should do; but it does not have any really excitement if I am honest, it just a number that I am sure the band have not played in years (Van Halen have an ability to forget songs they have done with different singers, unlike Black Sabbath). It is ok, but that is all; also it is better than "Can't Stop Lovin' You" (again, the theme from the album continues). Following on is a noisy sting number "Strung Out" which comes across with a sound like spoons are being hit off guitar strings. It does stand out as it not something you would normally associate a Van Halen. It feels like a free form Jazz number, or something from a German horror film. I enjoy this type of number, it is just a strange place to discover such a piece - also, the theme of being better than "Can't Stop Lovin' You" continues. Following on is "Not Enough" which starts like a song that could have been done by the rock band Chicago, it goes along like the rock ballads of the era - string section, an amazing guitar solo (would you expect anything else from Eddie Van Halen) and over-sensitive lyrics. It is another decent number that is very much of its time, it is not something that is pull my heartstrings the way it is designed to but it is still alright. I will get back to this statement later, but it does have a killer solo and again it is better than "Can't Stop Lovin' You". Following on is "Aftershock" which another slice of rock which is not exactly bad by any means to be honest, but the band were completely out of step with the times and themselves when they released this song. It is a solid number and has a fantastic drum display from Alex Van Halen (who is quite often overlooked due to the talent of Eddie on the guitar - which once again shines through on the solo), but the shift that he and Michael Anthony put in on this song is really impressive; the probably is that Mr Hagar does not exactly put in the full shift he and his voice does not feel like he is in full flight. It could have been the song of the album with a few tweaks (and maybe some re-takes as well). Also, the theme of being better than "Can't Stop Lovin' You" continues.
"Doin' Time" is a short drum solo on the album and keeps it very fluid and to a minimum, it is much like the track "Strung Out" it could have been expanded a bit. It is a great display of the other talented Van Halen brother and shows that not all drum solos are shit. After this is the instrumental "Baluchiterium" which sounds like the band of old; it is feels as if there was more passion placed into this song that into the rest of the album (with the exception of "The Seventh Seal") and it comes across very natural. It also has a sound that would not be out of place on either a Joe Satriani or Steve Vai album of the 90's. It is another time where Mr E Van Halen has the guitar singing like an angel and purr like a demon. It is another great instrumental and shows that not everything on this album is going to the dogs. Guess what song it is better than? Anyway, next is the penultimate track called "Take Me Back" which starts with an acoustic guitar and is another ballad number which is one of the strengths of Mr Hagar. For the most part of this album, it has worked against him when he has tried it; however on this number it seems to work very well. It is not saying that it is a world beating song by any stretch of the imagination, but is it a lot better than the vast majority of this album. It has everything falling into the right places and that is something that has been missing from this record far too much for a Van Halen album. Ending the album though is the track "Feelin'", which follows the slow "Take Me Back" with another slow anthem from the heart. I know this is what Mr Hagar does best, but it has been done better by him and many others and a Van Halen album should not end this way. It is not bad, but again it is not that good either.
Now I love Van Halen, I think that both David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar have their strengths and weaknesses and each period of the band has many positive points. This is not one of them, this is the sound of a band that was needing to change for itself and its audience. Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony have now gone onto the supergroup Chickenfoot, which is a fantastic project; the Van Halen brothers (and Eddie's song Wolfgang) are keeping the Van Halen brand going (more on that later) and they seem happier that way. This album is not a bad album as it is hard for Van Halen to totally ruin an album, but this is as close as it gets. Lyrically, the band sound like a spent force here (and it hurts me to say that), people are obviously not wanting to be there and it shows in the finished product. Van Halen records should be events, not balancing acts and it hurts the album when it should be able to soar. All the marks are for the music and not the lyrics, it would have been a mark higher if "Can't Stop Lovin' You" was taken off the album.
4 out of ten - Well it is alright, but still......
Top track - The Seventh Seal
You can purchase the album from Amazon here
You can visit the Van Halen website here
You can listen to the album on Spotify here
For our Deezer users, here is a link for you
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