Sunday, January 22, 2023

CD Odyssey Disc 1615: Van Halen

After a lovely night of listening to music with friends I awoke late this morning, but not too late to squeeze in this review before the NFL playoffs resume.

Not all albums that are ‘new to me’ are newly released, and such is the case with this next record, which I had little time for back in 1982, but more now that my musical tastes have grown more diverse. How much more? Read on and find out.

Disc 1615 is…Diver Down

Artist: Van Halen

Year of Release: 1982

What’s up with the Cover?  When used in marine navigation, this literally means “there is a diver down – please go slowly and cautiously so you don’t behead them with your prop”.

How I Came To Know It: I knew this album dating back to house parties in high school, but never liked it much. However, there was now enough time and distance for me to give it another chance. In this case, that chance came when my friend Ross gave me this copy as a gift. Thanks, Ross!

How It Stacks Up: I have two Van Halen albums – this one and their eponymous debut. I put “Diver Down” in at #2.

Rating: 2 stars

Listening to Diver Down made me wonder if maybe I should take the easy way out and buy a Van Halen “Greatest Hits” package and forego this fool’s errand to love their studio records. Van Halen is a good band at times, but no matter how killer a few tracks are, a full record reveals a band that thinks themselves much better than they are. It is a high opinion rarely supported by facts.

“Diver Down” starts with one of the album’s best tunes. “Where Have All the Good Times Gone?” has everything that makes a signature Van Halen tune great. There is a crunch guitar riff that digs in deep, and makes you want to shake your tousled eighties hair about. There is David Lee Roth’s lascivious showman singing (starting with the almost requisite “woo!” and descending into his sexy ringmaster delivery).

The song’s topic is also the core of Van Halen, a lot of “let’s party”, the question in the song’s title being answered with a definitive, “whatever house that is playing this ‘devil may care’ rock and roll!”  At least this was true in high school, and years later it still has that effect, even when I was just listening while stuck in traffic.

Where Have All the Good Times Gone?” is a Kinks’ cover, as is the other awesome song on the record, Roy Orbison’s “(Oh) Pretty Woman”. This version out-rock’s the Orbison original, as it drips with sexual innuendo, and converts Orbison’s “sitting on the boardwalk watching all the girls go by” vibe into more of a “barely tolerable construction site” scene.

After this, there isn’t a lot for me to hang my hat on with this record. The original compositions are well-played and sung with gusto by master showman Roth, but the tunes themselves are mostly forgettable.

There are three instrumentals on the record, “Cathedral”, “Intruder” and “Little Guitars (intro)” and all are insufferably infused with the band’s overblown opinion of themselves, none more so than Eddie Van Halen. “Cathedral” where he tries to make a guitar sound like an organ. He succeeds but left me wondering why he fucking bothered. If I wanted a guitar to be dripping in effects until it didn’t sound like a guitar, I’d listen to U2, where at least it is done within the larger structure of a good tune.

Intruder” is aimless noodle and feedback. Its only redeeming feature is it slides seamlessly into the brilliant “(Oh) Pretty Woman” but make no mistake, where the Orbison tune takes over is where the tune gets good, and not before.

And finally there is “Little Guitars (intro)” which is Eddie Van Halen’s version of “Lick My Love Pump” which is supposed to be some kind of high artistry with a flamenco flair, but is trapped within Eddie’s inescapable need to demonstrate how fast and technical he can play. Bored now.

On the plus side, the album’s best original composition, “Little Guitars,” immediately follows it, and reminds you why this band has been so enduring. There is some dope guitar on “Little Guitars” with Eddie channeling his inner Pete Townsend to good effect.

There are some great moments but I was too often annoyed to ever put this on as a comprehensive listening experience. Because of this I’m going to have to part with it and pass it back where I got it, or failing that, to a more deserving home than mine.

Best tracks: Where Have All the Good Times Gone?, (Oh) Pretty Woman, Little Guitars

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