Van Halen – “Humans Being” (Video – 1996)

November 7, 2008 at 5:37 pm (Music, Van Halen)

Sammy Hagar’s last song with Van Halen before his departure in 1996. He would later come back & tour with them in 2004 (as well as record 3 new songs).
Eddie claimed to have written most of the words to the song, with the chorus being inspired by John Lennon’s “Instant Karma.”

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David Lee Roth – “She’s My Machine” (Video – 1994)

November 7, 2008 at 5:19 pm (Music, Van Halen)

Underrated DLR song from 1994. Dave was definitely more subdued in this video than in past clips.

Note: Picture quality on this is only average.

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Patti Smith – “autobiography” (1971)

November 7, 2008 at 5:06 pm (Patti Smith, Poetry & Literature)

Published in Creem magazine, Sept. 1971…

 

autobiography

     by patti smith

great human wild animal
amoral
an outlaw
keep watch over her

I was born in Illinois…mainline of America…
beat to shit…Chicago tenement
big red eyed rats in the night…dead rats to tease at night
Morning…I waited for the organ grinder
with my nickel for the monkeys tin cup
gingerbread man…cotton candy man
bad girl setting fire to the oil cans
run like hell escape on the icemans truck
I was a limping ugly duck
but I had good luck

Mama filled me with fantasy…my bears danced at midnight
even my toybox had a soul
Mama called me her goat girl…little black sheep
I loved my brother and sister: Todd and Linda
we drank each others blood…we were double blood brothers
we rolled in fields…three white wolves…we practised telepathy
no one could separate us…our minds were one
One, little one eye…I had an eyepatch…I walked like a duck
In the years the nursery children cried Quack Quack
I didn’t care and didn’t fight back
I floated off…fantasy gave me fire…I was made of water
the moon caused tidal waves and I’d cry like a coyote

I learned to drift…magik…tarot pack
I paraded in thirty disguises
and when people laughed at my carnival family
We didn’t care…We had armor:
Daddy was a tap dancer…acrobat…wild horse
tracing pornography through the bible.
Mama was the dream of every sailor…bootlegged whiskey
called spirits from evenings half moon…dream weaver
We braved hurricanes…a new baby came…I named her Kim
the neighbors were suspicious…they called us witches
we didn’t care…we were laughing and dancing and damned
and there was always music
Hank Williams crying off the lonesomes
funny valentine…Patty Waters
beat of the drum…bartok
song of the swamp rat
rock and roll music
rock and roll music

Rythum
On my own…my own rythums:
rythum of the railroad
steamheat of the factory
Alabama blues on a migrant bus
but as a blueberry picker I failed…I dreamed too much
the berry crop died…my mother smiled.
I ran off…I traveled…I broke down
kept running…TB trapped in the lung…spitting on the railroad track
I shook…I drank…rythum of one too many rhums
Drunk and broke down I slinked home…grabbed my sisters hand
and away we run…We took a freighter to Iceland
railway to Paris…Pigalle and wine in a black dress
I joined the fire eaters and sang in the streets…using all I learned
from Lotte Lenya…Bob Dylan…and motorcycle rock n’ roll
We lived near a wishing well…milked goats…capture snails
and crawled back to New York.
New York my greatest love:
Rise of the building
flash of 42nd street…the pool halls…the hustlers
the trucks along tenth avenue
the helicopter yards
ghost of Jackson Pollock
human shit and dead dog floating on the Hudson River
moving…I kept moving
dreaming:
Panama…heart of adventure
the hot life of Mexico
the drunkard…the dock worker
Rythum…flash of white hair…winter
the Jesters…the Paragons
rise of the blue heron
breathe through the great rythum
scream through the Shepard
sing through that rock n’ roll music
rock n’ roll music
rock n’ roll music
rock n’ roll.

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Todd Rundgren – “Nearly Human” (1989) / “Anthology (1968-1985)” (1989)

November 7, 2008 at 3:06 pm (David Fricke, Reviews & Articles, Todd Rundgren)

 

David Fricke’s review of Todd’s 1989 album Nearly Human, from the June 29, 1989 issue of Rolling Stone (#555). He also reviews the anthology that came out around the same time… 

 

Todd Looks Back in Style

 

 

Patti Smith once said Todd Rundgren had “the ability to devour and juggle the best of what has passed and shoot it into future perfect.” In fact, she said it in these very pages, back in 1971, in a review of his second solo LP, The Ballad of Todd Rundgren. It would be another year before the young studio savant issued his magnum pop opus, the four-sided Something/Anything, generally acknowledged to be the consummate early-Seventies ear-candy album. But even then, Smith, no minor judge of what constitutes the art of rock, recognized in Ballad‘s beguiling songs of love and loss the imprint of a gifted craftsman with the intellect and imagination to make tomorrow’s pop today and the chops to do it with one hand tied behind his back.

Nearly Human, Rundgren’s first solo release of new material since his 1985 look-Ma-no-instruments album A Capella, actually produces the opposite effect – technique plus brains plus vision equals vintage Seventies Todd pop. Ever since Something/Anything, Rundgren has diligently made records according to his own rebellious aesthetic and utopian spirituality, only intermittently exercising his ability to create lush, loving ballads and bright sing-along singles. Admittedly, he’s made more than enough of those to fill Rhino’s new almost-two-hour-long compilation, Anthology (1968-1985). (There’s another volume dedicated to his work with the band Utopia.) Still, Nearly Human is as deliciously retro as Rundgren has ever been, not only begging comparison to the bumper crop of radio-ready jewels on records like Something/Anything and 1978’s Hermit of Mink Hollow but harking back even further to his deep roots in sophisto-Philly soul.

Simply put, Nearly Human is the best album of classy white-brat R&B since 1973’s Abandoned Luncheonette, by Rundgren’s old homeboys Hall and Oates. Cut au naturel in the studio with a veritable philharmonic of strings, brass and background singers (sort of Rundgren conducts the Love Unlimited Orchestra), it’s a colorful evocation of Motown dance frenzy, the light gauzy cool of Aja-period Steely Dan and the silken grandeur of Philadelphia International’s greatest hits. It’s also dosed with an almost garage brashness in Rundgren’s distinctive vocal style, a seductive amalgam of choirboy polish, shivering shy-boy croon and strained suburban-punk testifying. Rundgren doesn’t pretend to make textbook soul; he only wants to rev up his own kind of quiet storm the old-fashioned way.

The album’s boisterous opener, “The Want of a Nail,” boasts truly righteous roots – the O’Jays or Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes could have done a real torch job on this one back in ’75. As it is, guest singer Bobby Womack pours on his own soul kerosene while Rundgren turns his white wail loose in this rousing parable about horses, shoes and the importance of details (“For the want of a nail/The world was lost”). He shows equal chutzpah when he takes on a twenty-two-voice chorale in the album’s hallelujah finale “I Love My Life,” although the “Reverend Todd” shtick in the middle drags on to minimal effect. He may be A Wizard/A True Star, but he’s no Jesse Jackson.

That’s okay, because the ballads are the real heart of the record. “Hawking” is a pensive, hesitant ode to a Higher Love in the image of the slow, meditative beauty “The Verb ‘to Love’,” on Faithful. “Feel It,” co-written by keyboardist Vince Welnick of the Tubes, is a kind of Rundgrenesque take on Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” with whispery female vocals and a come-hither chorus. And even at his most accessible, Rundgren never lapses into the predictable; he throws a couple of neat vocal-harmony curves in “The Waiting Game” and “Parallel Lines” that are as captivating as his simple, addictive melodies.

Indeed, the most extraordinary thing about Todd Rundgren’s talent for making compelling if eccentric pop is that he has no solo platinum to show for it. Anthology (1968-1985), the capper to Rhino’s comprehensive reissue of the Rundgren LP catalog, isn’t so much a greatest-hits collection – Rundgren’s only had about an EP’s worth of Top Forty hits in the past twenty years – as it is a best-of-the-should-have-beens, twenty-seven to be exact. Even in the context of their original, obsessively wayward LPs, “Real Man” (Initiation) and “Time Heals” (Healing) had the hooks and rhythmic heft to be heavy-rotation naturals. “A Dream Goes on Forever” sounds like a Broadway hit in search of a musical. Then there’s the blend of tragicomic classical piano and heavy-metal melancholy in “Don’t You Ever Learn”; the long waltz-like goodbye of “Can We Still Be Friends”; the naturally sweetened power pop of “Couldn’t I Just Tell You.”

It’s also nice to hear so many of Rundgren’s finest moments divorced from the philosophical concepts and musical conceits that often guide his album making. Anthology (1968-1985) is the best of Todd Rundgren the pop meister, and the same goes for Nearly Human. Although there is a nominal concept to the new LP (that people, not machines, make the best music; take that, Depeche Mode), Nearly Human is really the record Todd Rundgren has refused to make for over fifteen years – simple, superb white pop soul, with no heavy intellectual strings attached. It was worth the wait.

David Fricke

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John Mellencamp – “My Sweet Love” (Video – 2008)

November 7, 2008 at 2:36 pm (John Mellencamp, Music)

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John Cougar Mellencamp – “Big Daddy” (1989)

November 7, 2008 at 1:55 pm (John Mellencamp, Reviews & Articles)

Steve Pond’s June 1, 1989 Rolling Stone review of Big Daddy, which remains my favorite JM album…

 

It doesn’t seem right, using a word like mature to refer to a guy who used to bill himself as Little Bastard – but these days, the word is just about inescapable when you talk about John Mellencamp. For somebody whose work has always suggested a morbid fear of aging, he’s slipping into rock & roll’s version of middle age pretty damn gracefully: His tenth album – his fourth since he shocked a lot of people by getting good – isn’t a big leap forward the way 1983’s Uh-Huh and 1985’s Scarecrow were, and it doesn’t break new musical ground the way 1987’s Lonesome Jubilee did, and on the first few listenings it doesn’t have any singles as bracing as “Rain on the Scarecrow” or as irresistible as “Cherry Bomb.” Instead, it’s an assured, personal and, yeah, mature record, an exercise in consolidation and continuity and craftsmanship.

The first thing you notice is the way the album sounds. Like Springsteen, Petty and Seger, the other major American mainstream rockers who emerged during the past two decades, Mellencamp has a band whose distinctive sound alternately defines, inspires and limits him. Its signposts are the remarkable, lean whap of Kenny Aronoff’s drums and the gritty guitar rasp of Larry Crane: These guys make dirty, rough-hewn Stones-style rock that packs a real wallop. But unlike the E Street Band, the Heartbreakers and others of that ilk, Mellencamp’s mainstream rock band has, on The Lonesome Jubilee and now on Big Daddy, been distinguished by decidedly nonmainstream touches that give this thoroughly citified genre a touch of the Appalachian hills or the Southern bayous: fiddles, accordions, dulcimers, banjos, penny whistles.

The result is a sound more distinctive and refreshing than that of any of Mellencamp’s contemporaries. Certainly, it’s true that fiddles and accordions are the lead instruments in some of the most invigorating pop music being made today – from Louisiana’s Beausoleil to England’s Oyster Band – but it’s startling to find them on AOR radio. And for that reason alone, Big Daddy deserves attention.

Of course, the sound of the album is nothing new: Mellencamp toyed with this approach on some of Scarecrow, then developed it fully on The Lonesome Jubilee. And in the same way, the theme of Big Daddy returns to a vein he’s mined before: American dreams, and the difficulty of ever realizing them. You could listen to the album, take note of Mellencamp’s continued fondness for the heartland and borrow a movie title to describe it: Field of Dreams. Except there’s no Hollywood happy ending anywhere on the album.

Big Daddy picks up where the last verse of the single “Paper in Fire” left off; these are songs about the pursuit of dreams, in which the fever of that pursuit as often as not either destroys the dreams themselves or blinds the characters to what’s happening around them. It’s an album peopled by folks who run after their dreams so hard and so fast and for so long that they lose sight of what they were after to begin with: You could say that about the authority figure in the title track, about the wild teens who are “chasing after something/And neither one of them believing in nothing” and about the blinkered old fool who makes things worse for everybody and turns out to be a certain recently retired president of the United States. You could also say it, it seems, about a rich and famous rock star.

The landscape on Big Daddy is as bleak as it was on Scarecrow and Jubilee, but Mellencamp has for the most part dispensed with the folkish small-town narratives he was once known for – even though Big Daddy titles like “Martha Say” and “Theo and Weird Henry” and “Jackie Brown” and “Country Gentleman” would suggest otherwise. The first of those is a hardhearted sketch of a woman trying to remain independent, the second a piece of nostalgia that doesn’t sound half as jubilant as the last album’s “Cherry Bomb.” And “Country Gentleman,” which comes near the end of the album, suggests that Ronald Reagan just might be to blame for some of the mess evoked in the rest of these songs: “He ain’t a gonna help no poor man/He ain’t a gonna help no children/He ain’t a gonna help no women/He’s just gonna help his rich friends.”

Certainly, you could blame the country gentleman and his friends for what happens to Jackie Brown, Big Daddy‘s most fully drawn character both musically and lyrically. The song is the story of a man’s life, and if the details are a little predictable and a little maudlin – Jackie Brown has a wife and daughter; he can barely support them; he’s “going nowhere and nowhere fast”; he dies; nobody cares – the music gives him life and makes his story heartbreaking. The spare, lonely ballad is set to one of Mellencamp’s finest and most delicate arrangements: a couple of softly picked acoustic guitars, a skeletal dream beat, an understated accordion, the soft cry of a fiddle playing an absolutely lovely melody.

But there’s another life story that emerges on this album, too, more fully than it has since the days when the younger and more foolish Mellencamp would use his albums as display cases for his hardass, don’t-give-a-damn cynicism. This is the story of another dreamer, one who avidly pursued his goals and wound up a rock star and now makes music, works for good causes and still wonders why he doesn’t feel satisfied. Certainly, some of this story sounds self-serving: Are we really supposed to believe that the guy who let a manipulative manager change his name to Johnny Cougar “never wanted to be no pop singer”? But at the same time, it’s impressive to see Mellencamp step out from behind his characters to confess his uncertainties (especially in the disquieting “Void in My Heart”) and ask the frankly baffled query of the final song, “J.M.’s Question”: “What kind of world do we live in?”

To his credit, Mellencamp doesn’t supply any easy answers; for some time now he’s spent more time asking the hard questions than figuring out the answers, and Big Daddy breaks no new ground on that or any other front. In fact, what’s missing from the album is the kind of transcendent single or two that has surfaced on the last few albums. But then again, Big Daddy is consistent, and it happily lacks any songs as superficial or marginal as, say, “Hotdogs and Hamburgers” or “You’ve Got to Stand for Somethin’.”

In the end, you’ve got to admire a guy who, even with his inbred pessimism, still has the sense of humor about himself to write “Pop Singer”; who has the talent to build that song and others around great, grungy riffs; who still prefers to make things sound rustic or raw rather than slick; and who’s open enough that his relentlessly bleak cynicism sounds less like annoying bluster and more like honest concern and befuddlement. A guy who’s matured, you might say.

Steve Pond

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Utopia – “Hammer In My Heart” (Video – 1982)

November 7, 2008 at 10:59 am (Music, Todd Rundgren)

Video of this song, which was taken from Utopia’s self-titled 1982 album.

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David Fricke – “Marshall Crenshaw: Marshall’s Heart” (1982)

November 7, 2008 at 10:38 am (David Fricke, Reviews & Articles)

Taken from a July 3, 1982 issue of Melody Maker comes this article about Marshall Crenshaw, who had just recently released his brilliant and timeless self-titled debut album…

The New York press insists Marshall Crenshaw looks like Buddy Holly but the cumulative effect of his appearance, his thin crooked smile, and the slight Oriental shape of his eyes actually suggests Neil Innes playing John Lennon in the Rutles. “Yeah,” Crenshaw chuckles to himself, “I’m a Ron Nasty clone.”

But Crenshaw is anything but nasty – his interview demeanor is more Joe College than Hard Rocker and he is definitely not a clone. Like the straight Fifties cut of his clothes, a natural unpretentious fit that is far removed from the nostalgic aping of rockabilly cultists, the 11 Crenshaw originals on Marshall Crenshaw (which just hit the US charts with the impact of a potential smash) are economic, authentic, even friendly evocations of pop gone by, recollections of Everly harmonies, Holly songhook curves, and Motown R&B classicism filtered through the white suburban garage band experience.

Songs like “Someday, Someway” with its cheery Hollydaze thrust, rich vocal harmony winners, “Girls…” and the sweet serenading “Mary Anne”, and the rousing “She Can’t Dance”, with its hot rhythmic Rockpile snap, sound that familiar, as if you’ve heard them all before but with slightly different words, melodies, titles, etc.

But you’ve never heard them like this. There is both a timelessness and timeliness to Marshall Crenshaw that marks it as a very Eighties expression of classic Fifties and Sixties songwriting values. The high-stepping call-to-party “Rockin’ Around NYC” recalls the goodtime teenage sunshine of the Beatles’ “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You”, but kicks with a bass-and-drum power (take a bow, Chris Donato and Marshall’s brother, Robert, respectively) that’s closer to atomic punk.

And while the Crenshaw trio – yes, just three people make all this joyous noise with Marshall on combo lead-rhythm guitar – cop the album’s one cover version “Soldier of Love” note-for-note off an old Beatles’ bootleg, they nevertheless color the soulful turns of this ’62 chestnut and the Beatles’ white doo-wop vocal arrangement with a desperate tension that Costello would admire.

“I appreciate that,” Crenshaw smiles somewhat bashfully, “because that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. I’m trying honestly to reflect my interests, musically and otherwise. Actually, mostly musically because I don’t have too many other interests besides music. This is no oldies or power pop thing. I am interested besides music, so we end up reflecting a lot of different things.

“I’ve been listening to music all my life and I think one of the things I do better than anything else is listen. My long background playing and listening has prepared me for songwriting.

“You see, the bottom line for me is that in writing songs and playing I’m doing something that reflects my own interests in music. I’m very aware of what kind of terms people think in when they talk about pop music. That’s all nonsense, this business about the next big thing, what does this mean, how it relates to something else. The idea of taking it all seriously is repulsive to me.”

A precocious rock ‘n’ roll child, he claims he was but three or four years old when he first heard the records that set his course for life – Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be The Day”, “Party Dolly” by Buddy Knox, the Everly Brothers white Southern harmony brew on “Wake Up Little Susie”, the original “Black Slacks” by Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones.

His rock and R&B education continued with help from a very hip dad (“he used to listen to rock ‘n’ roll and R&B, very down-to-earth American stuff”) and a few older, wiser teenage cousins.

Growing up in the Detroit suburb of Berkley added Motown and that city’s free-swinging garage band scene to Crenshaw’s potent mix of influences.

“Smokey Robinson, Brian Wilson in a way, R&B on the radio in Detroit” – Crenshaw runs off an impromptu list – “the first Stooges album, which I think is one of the most profound rock ‘n’ roll records ever made.”

And Buddy Holly?

“I’d have to say real strong. No question. But it’s not just on me. He influenced, in turn, so many other things I’ve loved as well. Like the Beatles. Their early stuff was individually their own, ‘Please, Please Me’ and ‘She Loves You.’

But none of that stuff would exist without Buddy Holly. So my loving him during my childhood and while I was growing up, then continuing to listen to other rock music influenced by him – there was no way I could get away from him. His influence would compound as time went on.”

The result is the Holly you hear in Crenshaw’s songs and spartan guitar-rhythm-voice arrangements, but it’s not a plagiaristic echo of old Coral 78s.

What Crenshaw has picked up from the old master is a sense of harmonic economy, a clever manipulation that yields a clarion pop richness with only trio voicings, and a deft command of his various musical passions, the sum of parts that he makes whole in his songwriting, i.e. the stirring Motown major-minor turns and Tempts-cum-Beach Boys harmonies of “Girls.”

“That song isn’t real typical of what I do,” Crenshaw contends. “There are a lot of transitions in it. Most of my songs are narrowed down into one sort of statement, an execution of one idea. I think of each song as an entity in itself. Sometimes I’ll try to take old ideas I threw away earlier and work them into a new song, but most of the time it doesn’t work.

“I get the best results, bang!, right there on the spot, taking an idea and seeing it straight through. Like ‘Someday, Someway.’ That was one of the first ones I wrote once I started to get serious about songwriting. I knew exactly what kind of atmosphere I wanted, the exact emotion to project. I heard it in my head and the whole thing took five minutes to write down.”

But Crenshaw would not start seriously songwriting (by that meaning more than two embarrassingly naïve tunes a year) until late 1979. Instead, he spent the Seventies playing the most unlikely gigs imaginable.

He played bass in a backup band for a Hawaiian dancer. He made the pilgrimage to L.A. to peddle a four-song demo and fared so badly that he had to work his way home touring with a C&W band. Then there was Beatlemania.

In 1976, at depressingly low ebb, Crenshaw answered a classified ad in Rolling Stone soliciting Beatle look-and-soundalikes for “the incredible simulation” stage show with a perfect carbon copy tape of “I Should Have Known Better” (recorded at home with Robert on drums) and a photo of himself in his wire-rimmed glasses. To his complete surprise, he landed the John Lennon role in the “Beatlemania” road company.

Also to his complete surprise, he discovered that playing Beatles songs six days a week in Beatles costumes in front of hokey slide and film projections was not such a gas. “Beatlemania,” he confesses, a deeply injured Beatles fan, “was like a nine-to-five job and a rather unpleasant one at that.”

Moving to New York in 1978 changed his life, literally. Robert Crenshaw was already here when Marshall arrived, attending audio engineering school.

Inspired by the city’s cross-musical energy, he began writing in earnest and recording basement tapes with Robert. An ad for bass players in the Village Voice yielded Chris Donato, and an ad for Alan Betrock’s newly formed Shake Records in New York Rocker eventually yielded Crenshaw’s first record, the sterling 1981 12-inch “Something’s Gonna Happen/ She Can’t Dance”.

“I had made this tape in my living room,” Crenshaw explains, “a version of ‘Jungle Rock’ by Hank Mizell, a dance-rock version I thought of putting out as a record. So I called Alan up and dropped this tape off at his office. Later I got a call from him. What had actually happened was the cassette I’d given him had ‘Jungle Rock’ on one side it had some of my originals. He heard those and liked them a lot better.”

Luck was also with Crenshaw when he dropped off a demo of songs with producer Richard Gottehrer. Or to be more specific, he left them with the doorman at Gottehrer’s apartment building. Gottehrer liked the tape so much he cut three of Marshall’s songs (including “Someday, Someway”) with Robert Gordon and went on to co-produce Marshall Crenshaw.

Now Crenshaw has the New York and national music press at his feet and he admits somewhat sheepishly that he has never met an audience that didn’t like him.

“I get this question all the time from people outside New York City, about how it feels playing in New York and having to compete with all this outré stuff. And they don’t understand that’s what’s really cool about this place.

“Seeing that before I even got this band together, seeing how different musical things could work in this environment, that gave me something to work for. It gave me encouragement to do what I wanted to do and not be part of a particular scene or style. I knew I could follow my own instincts.

“No, we haven’t had any bad reactions at our shows, yet, which isn’t to say we never will. But there have been nights when I got off stage and through we were awful, like ‘what more could go wrong. I better go look for a job in a Laundromat.’ And they still loved it.”

Marshall Crenshaw smiles weakly, as if embarrassed by all this good fortune.

“Still, I never feels like it’s in the bag. I know we’ve always gotta work for it. So far, we’ve just been real lucky.”

David Fricke

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David Lee Roth – “Eat ‘Em and Smile” (1986)

November 7, 2008 at 1:02 am (Reviews & Articles, Van Halen)

Rolling Stone review written by Jim Farber – Sept. 11, 1986…

 

Contrary to appearances, David Lee Roth is no dummy. While many expected him to go totally Hollywood and outcamp Crazy from the Heat on his first full solo LP, Dave smartly decided to try to reconstruct the axe-wielding crunch of vintage Van Halen. By aiming for kick-rock credibility, Roth was obviously helping his cartoon image regain some edge, but there was an obstacle to be overcome. Namely, how to recreate Van Halen’s full metal throttle without the inimitable Eddie.

Amazingly, Roth has come up with an impressive likeness of his former partner in ex-Zappa fret man Steve Vai. The guitarist takes his cues from Eddie’s loop-the-loop style, but, importantly, he adds some wild dips of his own. He’s not simply aping Eddie, he’s also embellishing. Likewise, Vai’s musical rapport with Roth mirrors Van Halen’s, and that relationship, as usual, defines much of the material.

In the strictest metal tradition, many tracks are just frenzied riffs with Roth rapping on top. And surprisingly enough, there’s nothing here as slick as the two singles on Van Halen’s post-Roth LP. Luckily, Vai’s guitar work provides a rough enough roller-coaster ride to counter the lack of more melodic hooks. “Elephant Gun” and “Bump and Grind” present a convincing case for metal retardation, and even Vai’s more “sophisticated” jazzy blues jaunts in “Ladies’ Nite in Buffalo?” and “I’m Easy” score.

Of course, Dave’s goofball persona should not be underestimated. Just because only two tracks on the LP are textbook camp (“I’m Easy” and “That’s Life”), that doesn’t mean Roth has any intention of playing the rest straight. In fact, Roth seems to have taken up the challenge from replacement shouter Sammy Hagar to enter into a full-scale battle of the bozos.

In cuts like the metallically catchy “Yankee Rose,” he mauls more scenery than ever, and every punch line hits just right. Throughout the album, in fact, the giggles just keep comin’, but it’s important to note that Roth’s life-of-the-party routine works only because his comedic timing is so dead-on. Undemeath there’s no real character. Call him a ham without wry. True, his sexism isn’t hateful like Hagar’s, and his surface sense of camp is admirable given his macho milieu. But his persona lacks the vulnerability to give him any kind of depth.

Of course, what kind of depth can you expect from a guy who dresses like an African Carmen Miranda on his album cover? Clearly Dave and his new band just want to have trashy fun. On this album, they’re having more than their share, and those who listen to Eat ‘Em and Smile are invited to have some, too.

 

Jim Farber

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Van Halen – “1984” (1984)

November 7, 2008 at 1:01 am (Reviews & Articles, Van Halen)

J. D. Considine’s March 1, 1984 Rolling Stone (issue #416) review…

 

This album confirms what a lot of Van Halen fans have suspected for some time: this is no mere arena-rock band. Beneath all the strutting and heavy-metal antics lies a band with more pop savvy than a dozen Journeys, as well as the chops to pull hooks from the most unlikely places. And 1984 is the album that brings all of Van Halen’s talent into focus.

From the start, it’s clear that the band has a few tricks up its sleeve. The opening track, “1984,” is a wistful synthesizer instrumental that could have come from Pete Townshend or Thomas Dolby. It manages to sound simultaneously streetsmart and glowingly pastoral, and it’s the perfect prelude to “Jump,” the album’s initial single. Like “1984,” “Jump” is not exactly the kind of song you’d expect from Van Halen: the main synthesizer figure uses suspended chords and a pedalpoint bass in a manner more suited to Asia. But once Alex Van Halen’s drums kick in and singer David Lee Roth starts to unravel a typically convoluted story line, things start sounding a little more familiar; and by the time Eddie Van Halen reinforces the synthesizers with steely bursts of guitar, you know this has got to be Van Halen, even though it’s a mainstream pop tune.

Of course, 1984 isn’t completely dominated by synthesizers. Aside from “I’ll Wait,” a spurned-love song boasting a haunting melody and flashy guitar solo, the rest of the album features the band’s trademark guitar excess. And on 1984, Eddie Van Halen manages to expand his repertoire of hot licks, growls, screams and seemingly impossible runs to wilder frontiers than you could have imagined. On “Top Jimmy,” for example, he moves without the slightest bit of hesitation from the incredibly precise stutterstepped fills in the verse to the fretboard gymnastics on the solo. “Hot for Teacher,” on the other hand, finds Eddie plugging his two-handed arpeggios into brother Alex’ fiery tom-tom work before the two light off into a turbocharged boogie riff that sounds like ZZ Top at Warp Factor 8.

But what really makes this record work is the fact that Van Halen uses all this flash as a means to an end – driving the melody home – rather than as an end in itself. Every song hits harder than expected, until by album’s end you’re convinced that, despite all the bluster, Van Halen is one of the smartest, toughest bands in rock & roll. Believe me, that’s no newspeak. 

 

J.D. Considine

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