Van Halen’s ‘Fair Warning’ is easily the most forgotten Roth era album, but for myself it’s their best.
Written by: Dangerzone
ARTIST: Van Halen
ALBUM: Fair Warning
LABEL: Warner Bros
SERIAL: HS 3540
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue List
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA
LINEUP: David Lee Roth – vocals * Eddie Van Halen – guitars * Michael Anthony – bass * Alex Van Halen – drums
TRACK LISTING: 01 Mean Street * 02 So This Is Love? * 03 Push Comes To Shove * 04 Sinners Swing * 05 Unchained * 06 Dirty Movies * 07 Hear About It Later * 08 Sunday Afternoon In The Park * 09 One Foot Out The Door
WEBLINKS: Site Link
One of the incorrect assertions about Van Halen’s early years is that they declined in a musical sense following the landmark self titled 1978 debut. Admittedly ‘Van Halen II’ was a letdown, with few gems (‘D.O.A.’, ‘Light In The Sky’, both standouts) but 1980’s ‘Women And Children First’ was on par with the debut, in terms of musicianship, melody and heaviness.
Many felt the showmanship of the debut had been lost, although strong album sales and sold out tours were not a problem. ‘Fair Warning’ was VH’s fourth album in as many years, and their most complex work yet. With an array of different styles employed, it is to these ears the embodiment of hard rock/metal perfection, another blueprint for rising US bands of the genre to follow in the 80’s.
This was an angrier, moodier Van Halen, exemplified by opener ‘Mean Street’ with its dark vibe, mostly from a downtuned series of murky riffs from Eddie, giving it a heavier overall sound than it’s predecessors.
‘Dirty Movies’ is the ultimate party anthem, no doubt inspiring many hard rock acts of the 80’s, with it’s bevy of raunchy riffs and lyrics, including Roth’s unforgettable line ‘Remember when that girl was prom queen? Oh wow.’ The tempo is upped a notch for ‘Sinners Swing’, with Roth in prime sex god mode and Eddie adding his unique backing vocals, such a key component of VH’s sound.
The emphasis is placed on pure melody for ‘Hear About It Later’, with fine atmosphere in Eddie’s guitar work, which proved that mind bending solo’s weren’t always needed to stun the audience. ‘Unchained’ became the only lasting radio hit, with the main riff reminiscent of ‘Panama’ from 1984.
The only track which doesn’t quite work is the reserved disco rock of ‘Push Comes To Shove’, maybe too quiet, particularly that funky bass line. Three minute rock and roll ensues with ‘So This Is Love’, very basic material, but effective, mainly due to the simple melody and always welcome handclaps.
Slightly experimental is the haunting synth piece ‘Sunday Afternoon In The Park’ which leads straight into the fury of ‘One Foot Out The Door’, employing the keyboard as a main weapon to Roth’s vocal foils again, until Eddie unleashes a maniacal solo in the final minute.
This is easily the most forgotten Roth era album, but for myself the best (including all Van Hagar of course).The sound was more bleak, even in the upbeat numbers, giving it an almost indescribable aura. The band was obviously angry and it was reflected in the music, resulting in some of their heaviest work.
More importantly ‘Fair Warning’ hasn’t aged in decades, sounding as if it could be released years later and still be contemporary. That is the best compliment I can think of. For me one of the best US hard rock albums ever recorded.
Hear About It Later