VAN HALEN Van Halen (Warner Bros.)
Even 30 years after the fact, Van Halen’s combination of hard rock and bubblegum pop seems innovative right from opener “Runnin’ With The Devil”, its crazy amalgam of “Toys In The Attic” and “Frampton Comes Alive” practically a licence to print greenbacks in late 70s America. Surprisingly, there’s some substance behind the style: Diamond Dave can sing and Eddie can certainly play, as evinced by plank-pleasurer “Eruption”. (Listening to the latter for the nth time, I realised that The KLF appropriated fragments of it for their ambient house magnum opus “Chill Out”.) A cover of “You Really Got Me” further affirms their popular metallics credo, and an initially acoustic version of Chicago bluesman John Brim’s “Ice Cream Man” provides this pony with a second trick. On top of which, this version of the Halen had a gift for writing so-dumb-they’re-clever songs, practically soaked in self-confidence and polished to a glinting perfection. Admittedly Roth doesn’t exactly helium scream “I like titties and beer!” at any point, but there’s little to ameliorate the impression that these are his chief concerns, and the band’s aesthetic, glammed up and roughed up, was surely responsible for launching a million hair metal bands from Guns N’ Roses downwards. But we can hardly blame them for that. For one shining half hour, “Van Halen” is the best frat-rock album in the world ever, and for that it should be celebrated.
In its latest 180 gram vinyl incarnation, “Van Halen” also sounds very fine, and its recreation of the US issue’s original issue is exact right down to the inclusion of the black and white insert rather than the colour one that graced later pressings.
VAN HALEN 1984 (Warner Bros.)
The tipping point on a timeline that has “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” in its distant past and “Slippery When Wet” in its imminent future, on “1984” what Black Sabbath started by bringing synths into close proximity with heavy metal went supernova. If the opening instrumental title track is something of a throwaway, “Jump”, which follows it, is a masterclass in bubblegum rock, Eddie’s guitar for once subservient to his chrome-plated sheets of synth. The percussive opening to “Hot For Teacher” sounds unnervingly like a motorbike revving, introducing a cocktail of juvenile delinquency, casual sexism and stupidity rolled up into a ticking pop-metal time bomb. “I’ll Wait” even manages to almost, almost, almost pull off the feat of sounding like a heavy metal Human League. Elsewhere, though, there’s still evidence of a more traditional Van Halen sound, nowhere more so than on “House Of Pain”, which dated back to the band’s early days. It’s an impressive confection overall, undoubtedly, but I’m less convinced that I actually like it.
“1984” sounds quite respectable in its freshly-reissued vinyl guise. This well-pressed disc has plenty of smash and grab, but is a bit overabundant at the top end with it.