Van Halen - Van Halen
In spite of the undeniable fact that Dave Lee Roth was a posing wanker, this album has a lot going for it. It is one of the best rock debut albums of all time - Boston's first effort was better though in my view - and did set a revitalisation of rock music at a time when punk and the new wave were making inroads into its predominantly male, teenage powerbase. Shorter tracks, punchier guitars and less of the florid, rambling lyrics, this was taking rock back towards its roots and away from the pseudo-prog which a lot of it had started to become.
However, in retrospect, any boost given to rock music was short-lived, as the genre began a mutation into something rather different from the rock classics of earlier in the decade. The problem was that the innate flaw in hard rock was even more present with Van Halen than with other bands at the same time, the overly macho, preening, posing against a backdrop of at times incredibly vapid lyrics. And you can lay the blame for that fairly and squarely at the feet of Roth. Yet even there, Van Halen, and Roth in particular, could be said to have led the way with hair metal. I sometimes wonder if I would have a higher opinion of this album were it not for the fact that Roth were the frontman. Surely, there cannot be a band that has ever been more ill-served by its vocalist than have Van Halen.
The key to the success of the band was the driving guitar sound. The guitars underpinned the band's ability to reach out, grab you by the balls and swing you round. If you didn't sit up with a start when the opening chords of "You Really Got Me" launched outwards then there was something seriously wrong with you. They were at their best with this style - "Ain't Talking 'Bout Love" and "Running With the Devil" were two more of the album tracks which exemplified this. Conversely they were not so good, hence the lower rating, when they tried to slow it down, or deliver a more bluesy approach, such as on "Ice Cream Man".
The credit for this lies with guitarist Eddie Van Halen who possessed an immense talent as a guitarist and, frankly, deserved better than Roth as a co-conspirator. Yet there can be no doubt that Van Halen put something back into rock which had been sadly lacking for some considerable time - fun. The almost pop format of the tracks, the straightforward lyrics (even if they were a load of macho nonsense) and the ability to fuse this with power and style were what made Van Halen such a success and such a huge influence on the style of rock music that came after them.
So where is the weak point? That's obvious. Dave Lee Roth. After Robert Plant, all rock front men tried to be like him - cascading blond hair, preening, posing and power. Trouble was, this was all natural to Plant. When others tried it, they looked like failed pretty boys. David Coverdale and Dave Lee Roth were the first to try - and fail. The worst example was Jon Bon Jovi. Tight trousers and big hair was never going to be a substitute for talent, and Dave Lee Roth's inability to recognise that was the band's biggest drawback. Van Halen marked the point when hair metal was launched upon us. For this, the band's debut album, it was a novelty. It pretty quickly ceased to be. Nevertheless, we should not overlook this album because of that for it still represents a brief moment when rock almost managed to reclaim the spotlight.
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on 2011-03-28 CharlesMartel Said:
I always though Van Halen was a band spoilt by the excessive ego of its vocalist. Still, this was a fine debut.