Sometimes you have people mention a band and you just have to listen to them again, today this has been the case with me and Van Halen. Today I was all ready to finish off a few reviews from artist who have released album this year, but now all I want to do it find out where I stand on the first Van Halen album; it has been an awfully long time since I have listened to this album. Little bit of history at this point - in 1978 Van Halen were a band on the rise and becoming incredibly popular. They had their first demo produced by Gene Simmons of Kiss, who dropped them like a bad case of the flu when his management team said they would not make it. However, after a gig at Starwood in Hollywood they ended up being signed to Warner Brothers (which just goes to show (much like their attempt to fuck over Starz) that the management of Kiss sometimes got it really wrong). This album is next on the list, coming the year after they were signed and whilst it was well received by fans it was not that popular with some of the mainstream press (again, they have been known to get it wrong), but it has since been stated to be a perfect mix of heavy metal and hard rock. So it is time to see if this album is still good when it is almost forty years old......
"Runnin' with the Devil" starts off this album with an explosion and riff that have been long held as one of the timeless classic of that, or any other decade. For me, it has always felt like a beefed up version of "Sweet Emotion" originally by Aerosmith; it might just be due to them being wrote within a few years of each other, but I find them to be mined from the same source. Not say that this is not a fantastic song, it is a true classic in every sense of the word and one of those songs which can transcend generations and musical leanings; just seems a bit similar in places for me to the Aerosmith number as well. After this comes "Eruption" which is a sub two minute instrumental which showcases the extraordinary talents of lead guitarist Eddie Van Halen, it is another brilliant track which shows just how good a guitarist Mr Van Halen is and how ahead of the game he was at the time; but it is very short (depending if you like guitar solos or not will affect those last words) for this listener and I could have gladly listened to more of the same. After that is one of the most famous covers ever released - "You Really Got Me" originally by The Kinks. To be honest about from Eddie Van Halen's guitar work, you have a pretty faithful cover of a brilliant song; however with that said, it is a really good cover.
After this comes one of the best ever riffs I have heard in my life - "Ain't Talking about Love". That opening riff delivered from the fingertips of Eddie Van Halen, David Lee Roth's vocals, Michael Anthony's bass and Alex Van Halen's drumming just come together on this song with a perfect mix of rock and metal that still can fill up a dancefloor, party or room no matter how many years it has been since its original conception - this song is the best one of the album, all arguments otherwise are to be directed at the wall behind you. After this is “I’m The One” which once again showcases one of the band’s strengths which is Eddie Van Halen and his guitar playing. I love the fact that they do not loop a guitar to give the impression of two guitarist (something that has always been done sadly), it lets the bass of Michael Anthony pound away in the back ground and makes it sound mighty; the song also feels like a rock ‘n’ roll number being transformed into a modern rock/metal song and it just goes by with a frantic pace that does not let up, even when they go a Capella at one point and drive the album onwards towards “Jamie’s Crying”. The sixth number of this album is another hard rock classic that does exactly what it should at this point. The album should not peak too early and this takes the pace back slightly, but without diminishing the quality of the song. It still sounds like it has a swagger about it, but it is not trying to race towards the horizon; it is no wonder these guys were receiving the reaction they were getting back in the 70’s. The next song on this album “Atomic Punk” however is the first song on the album to not shine like a diamond. It is interesting and the band are not doing anything wrong, but the chorus feels a bit jarring next to the verses for me and it is a feeling that has never went away since I first heard the album. A decent number, but no more than that.
“Feel Your Love Tonight” is a tale of sexual adventures gone wrong where a guy was a little bit of douche bag and wants to say he is sorry and make up with his partner again. It is a tale that has been told a thousand times before and since, but it is done with that standard Van Halen flair to make everything sound like it is done in the California sunshine and as if the party is still about to start in the next few minutes. Ballads are not supposed to sound so ballsy and this is so cock-sure that it is almost bragging in places; of course I love the song, even with its mis-adventures – mainly due to the solo nailing the song perfectly into place. “Little Dreamer” follows on, taking the pace back down a notch with its tale of caution and warning about treating someone wrong who is no longer around. It is done once more with a certain degree of flair and I do not think that Van Halen would have had it any other way, at that point there was no need for standards that would become the standard for rock ballads and they were all for the rock on this song – no acoustic needed for this number. It is still refreshing to hear this song as it still surprises me at times. The penultimate song is called “Ice Cream Man” and the acoustic guitar is used here instead, but it is a song about being the man who can satisfy any lady; the acoustic is used to showcase the blues riff that started the number and it sounds amazing even all these years later. When the band come into the mix, the song just goes to another level and it is so easy on the ears and to laugh at the corny lyrics that Mr Lee Roth seems to make sound like open invitations. Ending the album is “On Fire” and it brings the rock home with a track that does exactly what it says on the tin, it explodes and the album is brought to a close with a spectacular explosion.
This album has aged incredibly well, it might fall out of fashion with the times but it has a timeless quality about it. The components for their future dominance were all in place and would serve them well until Mr Lee Roth left and was replaced by Sammy Hagar, who took them in a different direction which was still interesting. But as a genesis point to where the band would be going in the years to come, it was a perfect platform with only one number that does not rise to the occasion.
9 out ten – Almost perfect, almost……
Top track - Ain't Talking about Love
You can purchase the re-mastered version of the album here
You can visit the Van Halen website here
You can listen to the album on Spotify here
Here is a link for our Deezer users