Van Halen – Balance (1995)

It seemingly was all over for Van Halen at this point. Some of the rot had set into the band. It went way back to 1985 when show master singer David Lee Roth had left the band. Then Sammy Hagar arrived, splitting the fan base. Their output slowed from then on in.

If that weren’t enough, Sammy Hagar and Eddie Van Halen were constantly fighting. There was also Eddie’s claim he was “clean and sober” at the time, which wasn’t exactly true. He was drinking constantly and on painkillers as his hips were shot, and taking other drugs as well. Everyone inside of the Van Halen circle were unsure about their future.

But Balance is a decent record. Okay, it is not Van Halen’s best by any measure. But Eddie’s tone sounds great here, better so than any other “Van Hagar” record that was recorded. His constant evolution of tone and sonic ability still shines through this record, and the rest of the band sound empowered because of this. It’s a good, but not great listen. So let’s hear it.

The Seventh Seal begins with wind chimes and the freakiest Buddhist chanting that you will ever hear, before crashing into an okay rock song that dates back to the very early days of Van Halen. The guitar riff by Eddie Van Halen is pretty good though, and the whole thing sounds different. It’s a better piece off this recording. The lyrics on this one, are very biblical. A nice effort.

Can’t Stop Lovin’ You follows. It was one of the singles off the album. It seems rather soppy in approach, even for a “Van Hagar” song. It still affects one emotionally, but we cannot but help think that these songs could be better done. But still, it’s a good flashback tune anyway. Nice vocal harmonies here though.

The next song is the polarising Don’t Tell Me (What Love Can Do). It was originally designed to be a vastly different song, but Eddie Van Halen disliked the original. So this version comes across as a badass piece, despite it being originally written in memory of Kurt Cobain after his suicide. Strange, but a fairly ordinary song anyway, despite the intention of the song.

After that, we go to Amsterdam. Sammy Hagar, being a bit of a pothead, no doubt loved this song as sort of ritualistic piece. But, it has some great riffs and playing by the band in general. It’s a more cheerful uptempo number by Van Halen, and one of the better songs on the album. It’s about the city in Europe where all the tourists go to smoke pot. A good effort here.

Big Fat Money is a song about desiring money. It’s a great uptempo rock number which paces very quickly. Alex Van Halen shines on here, and there is a jazz guitar solo in the middle. Nice to hear, even if the song is rather rubbish anyway. At least it is positive and fun.

Strung Out is a short instrumental that was recorded years before Balance was. It’s Eddie doing a muck around on a piano. Rather unnecessary for this album, doesn’t need to be here at all. But hey, at least it is short. It segues into the next song.

The piano driven Not Enough is a song about love being not enough from another person. It’s a rather depressing listen, but a good one. It has a great line in the song: “Because my heart will always be…yours honestly.” It was a hit single at the time, and is no doubt a good listen, even if it feels uncomfortable to listen to throughout.

The following song, Aftershock, is more or less a continuation of the previous song. It has some pretty sweet guitar playing by Eddie Van Halen. It sounds as though the band were about to fall apart, even on this recording. Still, it’s a great number to here, and there are some great guitar tapping and harmonics here. Nice.

Doin’ Time is an Alex Van Halen drum solo. It’s actually pretty good, although unlike his live stuff, didn’t go on for 20 minutes or longer. It’s just a short and decent piece with a variety of different drums and drum sounds here. A nice change from the other songs.

Baluchiterium is another instrumental. Plenty of instrumentals on this album, it is here mainly to show off Eddie Van Halen’s playing here. It’s a good listen, and the outro in particular is very psychedelic. Just an interesting and quality piece by the group, although Sammy Hagar is missing here, mysteriously.

The next song, Take Me Back (Deja Vu) is about reliving a good time that is being sorely missed. It relates this experience to memories about a certain place, “Some desert island off Morocco”. It has an acoustic guitar in it, too. A nice number from the group here on the album.

The last song on the album, Feelin’ is a good way to finish off this album.  It has some good playing by Eddie Van Halen, but you can kind of hear that the band were sick of each other at this point. Still, it rocks hard.

The album which was considered a balanced effort by the group (hence the title of the album) went to #1 and was the last real effort by Van Halen for many years. Still, it is a good listen and shows that Van Halen still had a few musical tricks up their sleeve. Ironically, the album artwork was changed in Japan due to it being considered offensive. It is still a good listen, although not a great one.

7/10

Leftfield – Leftism (1995)

Despite the somewhat political name of the group and album, this is not political music. In fact, it is one of the best EDM albums ever made. It’s so unique and wonderful sounding that it will leave you in awe.

It has a huge amount of different world music and electronic-based influences in this album. Let’s examine these tunes, track by track.

We begin this sonic journey with Release The Pressure. It kicks off with some ethereal sounds, birds chirping and launches into a great piece of electronic music. It has some Jamaican reggae influences in it. It breaks into a great dance piece. Not bad for a song that is over seven minutes long.

The next tune is Afro-Left which is a decent tune as well. It has some unusual string instrumentation of some sort played throughout, and some wonderful lyrics in a non-English dialect. It’s great to hear, and still sounds fresh and inspired today.

Melt sounds like a piece that melts in your mouth and sounds delicious. It is a very psychedelic number and still sounds great today. Horns and other trippy sounds are plentiful here, along with some crunchy drum sounds. A nice little piece in editing.

Song Of Life begins with an acid house style riff and bringing in some amazing and intelligent textures. It then breaks into a beat-driven piece which sounds rather catchy. It’s danceable and listenable simultaneously, a rarity in EDM. It’s very progressive as well in approach, a great thing indeed.

The next piece Original is very original. But the message in this piece with female vocals and lyrics is to remain true to oneself. It’s a little melancholy, but still very good. “You’re original, live your own path. You’re original, light your own way”. Great stuff. The outro is good too.

A very short (for this album) piece named Black Flute arrives. It’s a much more danceable piece for the album but still sounds true to the Leftfield sound. Very good to hear. Pumps the adrenaline in your body the whole way through.

Space Shanty arrives, and it sounds like a continuation of the sound of the previous track. There is some trippy sounding Sitar here, along with some eastern vocals. That is the intro alone. The rest of the song is just wonderful and groove-based, a nice tune here. There are some wicked tribal drums towards the end as well.

Inspection (Check One) arrives, and this track is awesome and cool. There is a heavy bassline and drum beats galore, along with some well-chosen sampled phrases. It’s a great listen, and if you have to listen to one song by Leftfield, ideally this is it. It never bores throughout the length of time here.

The following piece, Storm 3000, arrives with some attentive sounds that are very interesting. The subsonic bass here is awesome, as is the breakbeat here too. It’s a minor key piece but sits perfectly well in this album. This piece is a lot like what The Chemical Brothers would have recorded, but it’s Leftfield here instead.

The next song that arrives is one of Leftfield’s best. You can never guess that John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) is singing here. He sings really well here in a soulful way. This cut is Open Up. It’s very, very good. The breakdown is great too. A classic song.

21st Century Poem is a poetry recital into some futuristic sounds. It sounds very melodramatic and spacey. It is difficult to pinpoint where Leftfield got their samples from on here. But, it’s a good way to finish the album. It’s a call of arms to people to fight for their own rights. There is a twist at the end as well.

This is truly a great EDM sort of album. It’s definitely worth listening to. The only issue? It is a tad long and could have been edited in some ways. Still, it’s an essential listen for those who love all forms of electronic music. Hardcore fans will want to seek the 22nd-anniversary edition, which has some interesting remixes on it.

8/10

Blur – The Great Escape (1995)

Blur went mega after Parklife. The only problem with this afterwards was the competition, mostly from Oasis.

This album is okay, perhaps even a little underrated. It’s just not as strong as some of the other music by Blur and bands around this era in the UK. Still, a review is a review. Let’s dive in.

Stereotypes starts out with some retro 80s like synths and resumes from where Parklife ended. And therein lies the problem with the album, it is more of the same. Still, it’s very good. An English parody, and a very good one at that. It stops and starts again in the middle of the song.

Country House was the hit single off the album and has some good lines. “I’m a professional cynic, but my heart’s not in it.” Awesome. It’s a great fictional story about a dude that has very much everything in his life, or maybe not. It’s reminiscent of The Kinks, in fact.

The next song Best Days is a slow, ballad piece. It’s got some good singing on it but seems a little weak due to the pace of the song. Still, it’s a good Blur song regardless, though the lyrics are weak as well.

The next song is brilliant. Charmless Man may refer to The Smiths This Charming Man, but it’s a great catchy pop song which is a cynical look at someone detestable. It’s rather silly and listenable for sure. Party trick: recite the lyrics of this song to your friends, for a laugh of course.

Fade Away follows. Nice tune here, It’s about relationships and the poison that they can be to themselves in regards to money. The falsetto chorus is wonderful to listen to. It’s a straightforward song with dark lyrics, a good mixture of the two.

Top Man sounds incredibly dated from the word go. But it’s catchy enough, especially throughout the chorus. It’s a good mixture of interesting sounds. One cannot think at this point but how great it must have to be living in 1995. Not a bad piece.

The follow up The Universal is a vision of what may or may not in the future, many years from now. It’s got a lovely tearjerking nature to the song and sounds like a Burt Bacharach piece. Nice piece, and a good sentiment throughout. Sounds like a million dollars, even today.

A quirky song which is Mr. Robinson’s Quango comes next. Horns are everywhere, and the content is very sexual at the end. It’s a good piece, but better lyrically than musically. Worth a good listen.

He Thought Of Cars comes next. Another suburban tale of a person’s life story. It is rather dull this number, and as a result, is less listenable than the other songs on the album. A bit too long to be fair.

It Could Be You has a good riff basis with many guitars on it. It’s a quirky little number that is okay, but Blur has done better, before and since. Classic rock fans will definitely dig this number.

The next piece, Ernold Same, is a few minutes of varied instrumentation and a rather odd tale about a said character who did the same thing over and over every day. It’s a moral reminder to others to have some variety in life.

The song that follows afterwards has really awful synthesiser sounds throughout. Globe Alone otherwise is okay, but nothing great sadly. Could have been reworked easily, mind you.

Dan Abnormal is a lot better than the previous track. It’s a great story about said character. The twist in this is excellent, mind you. The lyrics are fantastic. Damon Albarn could have been a poet in his own right, or maybe just a postmodern poet in his own regard. Good stuff.

Entertain Me is a track which could have been trashed. It’s overly long and sounds a little depressing in its own way. In fact, many of the songs on the album could have been done so.

The next one songs really odd, like Glitch music. Especially at the beginning. It’s a strange romantic tale about Yuko and Hiro. This is a good tale with an ordinary musical backdrop. There is some Japanese at the end of the song. Good stuff.

Spoiler alert: hidden track. An instrumental called Ultranol is here and is merely an Ernold Same instrumental backing track. It’s a good way to finish the record.

Overall, Blur’s approach here weakened its public image. But don’t listen to others about the negativity on this album. Look on the bright side, tunes are plenty here. If you are a classy sort of person, this music may be perfect for you.

7/10