Review by Rick Ossian
Most likely the biggest question on everyone’s mind right now is ‘does it rock’? Well, rock indeed it does, and all four fellows are in fine form. Let’s put that to rest right away. Aside from the wait we’ve endured for a David Lee Roth-era Van Halen reunion album (bordering on Chinese Democracy proportions), I really have no complaints. There was some scuttlebutt on the internet and on That Metal Show, in particular, in regards to whether or not Wolfgang and Eddie were the real voices behind the backing vocals. Seems Sammy Hagar (on TMS and in his recent red rocking autobiography) espouses that those backing vocals were swiped from old tracks with Michael Anthony on backing vocals. “Ed can’t sing like that – Wolfie can’t sing like that – those background vocal harmonies are leftovers with Dave and Mike harmonizing”, says Sam. Well, enough speculation, I say. Let’s get down to the tunes.
Tattoo leads the pack, of course, and has a pretty cool video that accompanies it. All of you many YouTube fanatics have doubtless witnessed this spectacle. It also features something that is liberally sprinkled over a good chunk of the album – albeit in snippets – something I call ‘Dave Rap’. Remember the bit from Panama about being behind the wheel? Yeah, something along those lines. You and Your Blues, Blood and Fire, Bullethead, As Is, rThe Trouble With Never, and Stay Frosty (a sort of Ice Cream Man pt. II) all feature little pieces of David Lee Roth’s ever-so-seductive low, bluesy rumbling spoken word bits. You can almost see Eddie cringing every time the rhythm breaks down and the music gets quiet…
There are other highlights as well. Eddie, Wolfie and Alex all shine throughout. She’s the Woman features some really cool bass licks. In spite of the fact that Michael Anthony is a world-class bass player, I can’t help but remember the first time I heard this track, and thought; Man, Wolfie is a damn good bass player! Sweet old school classic VH harmonies here also. And while You and Your Blues may sound a bit lacklustre to some, it is the only one of its sort on here. Everything is pretty upbeat, pretty basic – as in basically ripping your head off! China Town‘s cool intro leads into an overdrive thump very reminiscent of Hot For Teacher. Blood and Fire, on the other hand, features a pretty acoustic intro ala Ed, with the inevitable Dave-Rap in the background (‘told you I was coming back’). This track would have fit easily on 1984 or Diver Down. A sweet lead solo on here as well.
Bullethead is a rather heavy, almost punky number where the title of the album comes into play. It is visceral and punky, and reminded this scribe of One Foot Out the Door from Fair Warning. As Is features an intro from Alex (!!), a real thumping stomper, once again ala Hot For Teacher, with that triple-time ZZ Top rhythmic vibe! Honeybabysweetiedoll is another good one – makes you want to holler! Some cool bass licks in here also. My favourite line comes from the next track, The Trouble With Never, wherein Dave intones ‘When you turn on your stereo does it return the favour?’ It reminded me of something Ian Anderson said once: “My mother is really turned on by the television. And vice versa. Think about it”. Alex shines on this one again. Outta Space is super heavy, whilst Stay Frosty starts out strummy, as mentioned above, but kicks in in a minute, so don’t be impatient!
Big River should be called Big Everything, because everything is HUGE – the guitars, the vocals, the drums, bass – it’s all BIG. Love the lead on the outro here. Beats Workin’ should have the word ‘baby’ at the end of the title. Perhaps something DLR picked up from Robert Plant? Perhaps. This is the only track coming it at just over 5 minutes, and features some very cool vocals, kind of sunshiney, if you will, ala Dance The Night Away.
So, bottom line is this: if you’re tired of waiting, go pick it up. If you’re concerned that it’s not Women and Children First or Fair Warning calibre, pop over to a mate’s house and give a listen. Then go buy it. Oh, and in case you were wondering, it’s Rick-approved!