Those relishing the prospect of a return to the days of Roth era Van Halen antics would have been the most despondent after enduring this, at 65 minutes it’s a marathon, with too many tracks over the five minute mark.
Written by: Dangerzone
ARTIST: Van Halen
LABEL: Warner Bros
SERIAL: 9362 46662-2
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue List
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA
LINEUP: Gary Cherone – vocals * Eddie Van Halen – guitars * Michael Anthony – bass * Alex Van Halen – drums
TRACK LISTING: 01 Neworld * 02 Without You * 03 One I Want * 04 From Afar * 05 Dirty Water Dog * 06 Once * 07 Fire In The Hole * 08 Josephina * 09 Year To The Day * 10 Primary * 11 Ballot Or The Bullet * 12 How Many Say I
WEBLINKS: Site Link
Anyone who was around in 1996 will undoubtedly recall the ludicrous circumstances surrounding the Van Halen vocalist position. Firstly Sammy Hagar was unceremoniously dumped by the Van Halen brothers, only to be replaced by the returning David Lee Roth, who was sent to the unemployment line again after two new tracks on a Greatest Hits affair and a notoriously embarrassing display at the MTV Music Awards.
For me having Roth back seemed too good to be true, so it was somewhat alarming when it was suddenly announced that ex-Extreme vocalist Gary Cherone had been hired as the new singer (after Mitch Malloy fell through apparently). When this album appeared a couple of years later the effects of this turmoil was readily apparent in the music.
The decision to use Mike Post as producer was strange, but a cover album of his best television show themes would have sufficed more than the majority of this album. With Cherone the brothers had a hired gun they could do anything they wanted with, hence the self-indulgence of the content here and their disdain with Michael Anthony led to him only playing on three songs allegedly.
When I first heard this in 1998, it was on one of those ‘world premiere’ radio shows a week before the official release. After listening to that show I never considered buying the album, making this the first time I’ve ever sat through it. One thing’s certain, this album has a shaky reputation for many reasons, probably too many to list here.
Those relishing the prospect of a return to the days of Roth era Van Halen antics would have been the most despondent after enduring this. At 65 minutes it’s a marathon, with too many tracks over the five minute mark.
A familiar Alex Van Halen drum pattern opens ‘Without You’ which is the most remembered song here and in keeping with the Hagar years in sound. It’s rather dour melodically however, keeping with the times I assume and as has been noted by just about everyone Cherone sounds like Hagar (or Paul Sabu?) in disguise.
The similarities are too close to overlook. Furthermore the riffs sound more like AC/DC at times, a very confusing state of affairs. ‘One I Want’ is a blend of old and new Van Halen and I can hear Roth in this one almost more than Hagar. What you don’t hear is Cherone, relegated to facelessness in all regards.
‘From Afar’ plods along, some stalker tale with Cherone trying to sound menacing but instead degenerating into parody. This is awful, going nowhere with agonizingly slow rhythms and boring guitar work. Just as tedious is ‘Dirty Water Dog’ which has the ‘OU812’ guitar tone and has nothing to redeem it, seemingly an unfinished demo of ragged ideas.
What follows is a calamity, the almost eight minute ‘Once’ where the band taps into their industrial side, with some horrific sound effects and a drum machine propping up this disastrous piano based track. Does this song really exist? What was Eddie thinking at the time? Free of anyone to oppose him, clearly he was running amok hence this humiliation. This is the first time I’ve heard this in full and I’m honestly in shock at how far this band had fallen.
‘Fire In The Hole’ probably went someway to appeasing those alienated by the previous song, a hard rocker out of the Hagar textbook with Eddie sounding like you’d expect him to on a Van Halen album. But as if to say ‘you’ve had your fill of that’, ‘Josephina’ is a further five minutes of acoustic ballad sludge, with guitars out of tune and a general state of confusion. This is not Van Halen. Hagar and Roth must have been laughing at this.
Amazingly it gets worse, with ‘A Year To The Day’ being over eight minutes for no valid reason, just meandering along with depressing lyrics and music, as if the one time party kings were ready to commit group suicide. Try sitting through this objectively and you’ll fail, I guarantee you.
After a sitar instrumental ‘Primary’ there’s a fast track thrown in for token measure, ‘Ballot Or The Bullet’ showing this lineup could rock but the lyrics are serious once again, something this band never exceled at. The Cajun guitar interludes seem irrelevant, bringing the songs stock down a notch.
Eddie takes center stage on lead vocals for another overlong dirge, ‘How Many Say I’ being the offender this time. Yet another misguided ballad, this should have been on a solo album, with nothing resembling Van Halen on show at all. It’s all piano, with near Dennis De Young theatrics from Eddie on vocals.
This is nothing but gross indulgence and it’s on par with the worst of the recently reviewed Dokken and Motley Crue albums from 1997. I don’t have the words at my disposal to truly characterize how dire this song is.
There’s no doubt this is the worst Van Halen album of all, a bloated and misguided attempt to somehow reinvent themselves as a serious rock group, with few references to the past. The fact it only went gold reflected the public’s disdain for it, not to mention it would be their last studio album for 14 years.
This lineup didn’t last much longer, falling apart after starting work on a second album. Surely it would have been better than this, a moment where the brothers finally seized total control and in doing so made a mockery of one of the greatest bands of all time.
Fire In The Hole
Entire Album (Select Tracks)
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