30 May 2015

Van Halen - For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge

I really don't know why anyone why anybody would want to name their record as Fuck. It might have threatened to push the boundaries of taste 24 years ago, these days it's just so heavily cliched and stamped upon indiscriminately. The title was Sammy Hagar's idea but something that Eddie van Halen was completely against. Then somebody reminded Hagar of what it meant, although in the Queen's English, it actually means Fornication Under the Command of the King. So, for all you VH fans and foul mouthed mothers, there you have it.

So, album nine on the VH chronology and number three with the rather eccentric Mr Hagar, which is one of the few acts I have seen and evidence that EVH still had an inventive mind and willing to take the creative boundaries to the next parallel. Sadly I really don't keep track of what Van Halen get up to in recent times, only that it's my hope Eddie has at least overcome a few of his alcohol problems what seem to have plagued him. And best not to go into the kitten scratching contest that Sammy and returnee David Lee Roth seem to embroil themselves in these days.

As I've just mentioned, EVH was trying for something a little different, and I suspect their opening track Poundcake is trying to do more than make a statement. If the opening section sounds like an electric drill, then yes. (the photo proves it) He does use an drill on the steel strings which in my opinion is a bit of a health risk if the chuck is fraying them, but H & S is not my biggest fear. My fear is that Poundcake is simply going to dominate the whole of F.U.C.K. too much, nor was it his idea, as Billy Sheehan (one of the finest bassists by the way) was dabbling in this experiment a few years earlier.

Memorable introduction in Poundcake, and that it shows plenty of promise. I do like it but in some parts the suggestive double entendres in the song are just a little too blatant and unimaginative. There's plenty of Sunday roast in it but actually it's missing a few trimmings, which with a few other mighty singles, it's normally the other way round. Great shame. It's also a little too pedestrian so, next we have Judgement Day which thank God redresses the balance, weighty and pacey if a little too Bon Jovi and struggling to crawl out of the eighties. Following on is the premium phone line themed Spank, and continuing the sexploitation concept, nice story but even at barely five minutes really feels heavily laboured and two thirds in, I'm seriously losing my attention.

Not their best effort so far, so onto Runaround, their other single release, and while not their crowning glory is one of their simplest but more impacting street tunes, ingraining riffwork, so things hopefully will pick up from here. VH billed this as their return to basic rock roots and a ditching of the synthworks that they used in the Eighties, and I can see that Pleasure Dome is taking a more progressive approach, but could do with a couple more hooks and twists to the plot to propel it to a higher mark. In 'n' Out is a more basic rock n' roll number that keeps true to those roots, sadly it's another one that's a little too long and lacking a bit of depth. And for me, the next few fillers in Man On A Mission, nice introduction, but what in fresh hell are those En Vogue styled harmonies doing in a hard rock VH number?! Too flat for my liking and likewise The Dream Is Over. Forgettable.

When I first heard it about 20 years ago, I wasn't enamoured with Right Now, maybe because of its softer overtones, but actually now I'm listening to it in 2015, it's not so gravely watered down, maybe the piano leads are the crucial part of the song. Obviously a soft rock approach but I really do enjoy it, one of their more inventive tracks. Penultimate track, brief semi acoustic instrumental is 316 is named after Eddie's son Wolfgang (now VH's bassist incidentally) and his birthdate March 16. A snippet perhaps, but enjoyable. We're now at the final track, Top Of The World, killer chorus and thankfully a quantum leap towards the end, feel good and endorphine laden but at least the vocals do it justice given the lack of keyboards that really Van Halen has been sorely missing so far.

In 1992, I would've given this a dizzy high mark, but time in my view hasn't been too kind on For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. Sammy Hagar is a reasonable singer and his more competent higher notes than David Lee Roth were certainly a welcome boost for VH in the mid 1980s, but even at this point in the high E notes he does sound like he's struggling. They went back to school but spent too much time there. The concept of ditching the electronic buzzes and keeping the rock theme 'unplugged.' It's a nice idea, but For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, while not being a big pile of you-know-what, I really wish that Eddie and Co, took a little bit more time in the songwriting input. I really want to hear more hammer ons, more tappings, you know, all these things that make Van Halen so distinctive and ground breaking. Teacher does NOT need to seem them after school.

5 out of ten. It could have been a bit better.
Best track : Top Of The World.

Buy For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge here on Amazon
Listen to album here on Spotify
Deezer listeners can click on this link
Official Van Halen website
Official Van Halen Facebook page

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