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

Van Halen – 5150 (1986)

It was a strange turn of events for Van Halen. David Lee Roth and the rest of Van Halen parted ways for some time in early 1985. After a short time, the successful solo artist Sammy Hagar joined Van Halen as their singer and occasional guitarist. By 1986, the group were ready to dominate the charts with this release, beginning the “Van Hagar” era.

This is the best offering by Van Halen with Sammy Hagar, so let’s check it out.

Good Enough begins with “Hello baby!” before launching into a very solid riff driven piece equating food to sex. It’s an awesome sounding tune, which changes tempo midway through the piece. The group sound relentless here in their approach, a great start to the album. The outro is fantastic too.

Why Can’t This Be Love is a great piece by the group. Rocketed along with keyboard riffs and Sammy Hagar’s great singing, it is not at all like David Lee Roth era Van Halen. It is a much more deep and meaningful statement than David Lee Roth could ever do. Plus, it was a radio hit at the time as well.

Easily the worst piece on this album is Get Up. It sounds horrible and also has dated really badly. Seriously, this could have been done better. Although Alex Van Halen drives this song very well with his drumming, it is rubbish. Could have been rethought here. Worth avoiding.

The next piece is much better. Dreams has some awesome keyboard sounds and great varied instrumentation here. Sammy Hagar apparently was hyperventilating during recording vocals here, as you can probably guess from his delivery. A great guitar solo is here as well. Mint tune. Beautiful.

Summer Nights is a great chilled sort of tune. Eddie Van Halen plays guitar very well here, and on the other songs on the album. Although this recording sounds somewhat dated overall, it has great tunes here. “Summer nights and my radio, that’s all we need baby, don’t you know?” Brilliant.

Best Of Both Worlds is a great pop song. It’s about said topic in a relationship, which is about bringing the best out of both ends of the relationship. It is very well done and the chorus is totally uplifting. Good pop/rock music here.

The first real synth ballad that Van Halen ever did arrives. Love Walks In is typically 1980’s and written about aliens. More importantly, it is a song about love as well. It still sounds fantastic today, mind you. Definitely touching and worth listening to. The guitar solo here is stunning and awesome.

The title track 5150 is a somewhat melancholy piece. It’s solid though, mind you. It fits the album nicely, even if it seems nonsensical lyrically. A great little number here. Eddie’s guitar playing here is wonderful.

Inside is seemingly nonsensical rubbish, but it is likely a musical stab at David Lee Roth. Obviously, the band had not forgotten what had happened beforehand. It ends the album on an okay note, although it could have been shorter in length. It’s somewhat humourous listening though.

The 5150 album went to #1 on the Billboard charts and sold many millions of copies. It’s often considered the best “Van Hagar” album, and is worth listening. The divide of Van Halen fans begins here, but that is seriously is unnecessary as the material here is good.

Enjoyable listening.

8/10

Van Halen – For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991)

The unusual name of this album makes sense to one if it is abbreviated. It’s a historical reference, where the word F-U-C-K came from. The original name of the album was going to be far more explicit.

This is the third Van Halen album with Sammy Hagar. Despite there being some ongoing tension within the band, it’s a great album and excellent listen. Let’s dive in.

We begin with Poundcake which has near silence, before going into a power drill based intro and a great rock song. Sammy Hagar’s vocals are top here. He and the rest of Van Halen kick ass. It equates food to sex, hence the title of the song. It’s a great opening song to the album.

The next song Judgement Day is an underrated and pulsating rock song. It utilises the Floyd Rose tremolo system on electric guitar to great effect, and sounds mega. Sammy Hagar really sings this well, not bad for a guy who at this point had been doing music professionally for nearly two decades.

Spanked is the next song, and sounds dark and dirty. It’s supposed to be. It’s a somewhat humourous piece about a phone sex experience. There is baritone guitar here too. It’s a good song, but sadly not a great song.

Runaround was a hit single off the album, and a live favourite. It’s likely about chasing girls, and has a surprise tempo change in the middle of the song. A decent song, and it comes across that way.

The next song, Pleasure Dome, is probably too long and boring for most. It seemingly is, although Eddie Van Halen plays very well on this number. and his (then) new Ernie Ball Music Man EVH Signature Model sounds too good to miss. Which is a redeeming feature of listening to this song.

A really good song In ‘n’ Out comes next. It sounds a heck of a lot like Led Zeppelin, but intentionally so. There are some great riffs, a wah-wah solo and Sammy Hagar screaming in a sexual way towards the end. It’s a very intense and good listen.

Man On A Mission begins with some awesome tapping and harmonics before launching into another sexual based song. This one could have been shortened though, it doesn’t sound as consistent as the other songs on the album.

The Dream Is Over is a call to arms for Van Halen fans, talking about overcoming issues in society in general. It’s got a great riff, even if it was not released as a single.

Probably the most personal Van Hagar track is Right Now. It has a history about it from Sammy Hagar’s perspective. It begins with a great piano piece, before launching into a memorable and much loved song about taking the opportunity to do something in life.

The instrumental guitar piece by Eddie Van Halen is his response to the previous track. 316 was devoted to Eddie’s son Wolfgang Van Halen. It’s a great fingerpicked piece, and sounds awesome, even today.

Top Of The World is the last tune here and it sounds perfect as a sort of encore number. It was intended to be that way. It lifts the outro riff from the band’s earlier hit Jump but sounds completely different. It’s a good way to finish off the album.

This is one of the better Van Hagar albums. Sadly, things fell apart within the band (not for the first or last time) and a lot of damage was done to the different Van Halen members of the band. Forget that, this is a very good and underrated rock album. Some of their best Van Hagar work is here.

Sit back and enjoy.

8/10

Montrose – Montrose (1973)

For a debut album, this is a winner. Sammy Hagar found Ronnie Montrose on his travels on the west coast of the USA and became the singer in his band. Ironically, Sammy Hagar would become the second singer in Van Halen. They, and many others, loved this recording. It’s a definite classic and shines bright, even today.

Rock The Nation starts off the album, and it is truly awesome. It’s a rifftastic and wonderful number. And Sammy Hagar’s unique high octave voice is here. Interstellar Overdrive Part Two? Not quite, but this is very, very good indeed.

Bad Motor Scooter is next, and has some interesting guitar sounds on it. It keeps this song alive, and shows just how underrated this band was at the time. It’s a classic rock tune, listen to it and smile. Sounds much like a distorted Gibson Les Paul with a slide piece added to it. Nice.

The next cut is definitely Interstellar Overdrive Part Two. Space Station #5 is a great piece with some awesome trippy guitar sounds on it. It then bursts into a loud and raw rocker which makes you want to go to the moon and back. Brilliant. It has a great twist at the end.

The follow up is more a song like piece, I Don’t Want It. It has an anthemic chorus to boot. It also shows a great riff off throughout the song. These guys obviously knew how to rock, and very well at that.

Good Rockin’ Tonight arrives next and is an up-tempo piece about dancing, and just having fun in general. Nowadays the lyrics and music style would be canned, but this is just really well done. Was music really better back in those days? We will never know for sure.

Rock Candy – what a tune! It sounds awesome, from the drum lead off, to the riff and to the main part of Sammy Hagar’s singing. Everything about it hits the spot, and is likely the best song from the album. A must hear.

The next song, One Thing On My Mind, is about the music, and the love of a woman who likes to dance away the night. It’s a great anthemic tune, and by this point, we know we have a really great album on our hands.

The last song on the album, Make It Last, is a good piece to close this album. It does sound a little longer than should be, but still, it fades out nicely and we conclude this wonderful album.

Real hard rock starts here. The album has sold steadily over the years, and Sammy Hagar became a star over time. Be sure to check out the reissue with many demos and other goodies that have been previously unreleased.

8/10

Sammy Hagar – V.O.A. (1984)

1984 was an anticlimax year for those who thought that George Orwell’s prediction would come through via his best selling 1984 book. It was also a build-up year for the trashiest of 1980s commercialized keyboard music. Additionally, Ronald Reagan was re-elected yet again in the United States. But ironically, along with Van Halen’s 1984 album recording, this album is the best of rock music in that year.

It defined the times and also has aged very well over the years. Sammy Hagar had cut himself a successful solo career, although one which is difficult to find on Spotify or Soundcloud. This album is worth hunting down if you can find it. It’s a very good listen.

It leads off with Sammy Hagar’s biggest solo career hit I Can’t Drive 55. It’s such a catchy pop/rock piece that it has caused many crazy drivers around the world to break speed limits to this song. It’s a great song and brilliant for Sammy Hagar.

The next song Swept Away is about finding one’s first true love and being swept away by it. Sammy Hagar delivers his famous high octave vocal delivery fantastically here, “One night, yeah and I am hooked on you!” Great for a song that wasn’t as popular as some of his other solo work.

Rock Is In My Blood is a celebration of what makes Sammy Hagar a great rockstar. It’s more downtempo but still delivers well. With such a voice, it puts all the other tobacco chainsmoking rockstars to shame with such great sounding vocals on this record. Sammy Hagar is not a tobacco smoker by any means, to this day.

Two Sides Of Love points to the ups and downs of a love based relationship. It’s a nice ballad and points out that in love one can never be too careful with a love based relationship. Sammy Hagar may have been hinting at his own troubled love life at the time of recording this song.

On the other hand, Dick In The Dirt talks about a dude called Richard who just likes to get some without being aware of the consequences. It is a little weaker but dirty and nasty. Hold onto your trousers gents when listening to this one gents.

The title track V.O.A. blows away every other rock singer of the time and points out that he truly was and is the voice of America. Even David Lee Roth of Van Halen could not muster up the sonic ability that Sammy Hagar had here, and does very well indeed with the extended vocal part at the end of this song.

Don’t Make Me Wait shows that love is not patient at times, and although it slows down, it doesn’t bore with the message. It flows nicely on the album.

Burnin’ Down The City is about putting on a great rock show. Sammy Hagar was and is capable of doing so, and this song finishes a very good and listenable album.

This is not Sammy Hagar’s best solo album, but it comes very close to being that. Even then, it’s fantastic listening for a rock album of the 1980s. Shortly afterwards Sammy Hagar began singing much more pop-like songs in Van Halen after that group lost David Lee Roth. It’s better to remember him this way, the songs are just fantastic and have energy and consistency throughout. For those who love Van Hagar and want more, check this album out.

8/10