A recent resurgence in the popularity of Classic Rock music has had many effects – some great, some… well, the less said the better. The main one is that many older bands are facing increased pressure to reform, tour and record, and that I can now go into a record store and look for NEW albums by my personal favourite artists (yes, I have the same taste in music as your dad). The first offering from the old-guard of Rockers for 2012 comes from Californian metal masters Van Halen. This is their first album in over ten years, and their first with original singer, David Lee Roth, since the 1980s. This is, therefore, a fairly momentous occasion for all fans of the band’s music. However, the album has been confirmed to be made up of mostly reworkings of old demos that never made it onto studio albums. This has made many people angry that the band has lost creativity and originality. What these people seem to forget is that people widely accept that old Van Halen was best Van Halen (VH I was a huge hit for the band back in 1978, whereas III in 1998 erm… was not). These songs, therefore, have the hallmarks of the band’s classic sound, infused with the relative youth of Eddie Van Halen’s son, Wolfgang, on bass.
Musically, the band are as strong as ever. The album contains 13 tracks of unashamed, unabashed, joyous Rock n’ Roll music. The years haven’t diminished the phenomenal guitar skills of Eddie that helped make the band so successful from the start. The solos are still lightning fast, with riffs that, if anything, prove that the band is as heavy as ever. There are few real problems with the music on the album. The biggest criticisms come from the vocals – occasionally they seem to get a bit messy and become rather unclear. David Lee Roth, the enigmatic front man, although still a great singer, has, over the years, aged and is no longer what he once was.
Some of the lyrical material is not exactly genius, with some songs sounding remarkably similar to earlier tracks (Stay Frosty bares a remarkable resemblance to Ice Cream Man). One of the tracks on the album, You and Your Blues seems to do nothing more than quote the titles of old blues and rock numbers. The first single from the album, Tattoo, although catchy, lacks some of the spark and energy of their earlier songs. It also has a fairly cheesy refrain which, nonetheless, is rather catchy. As a song, it’s not exactly highbrow or musically complicated, but it includes a typical Eddie guitar solo, proving that despite the years he’s still got his famous blazing chops.
In the end, Van Halen haven’t exactly stretched themselves or done anything different with this album. However, as such a well established band, that will either be a positive or a negative depending on your point of view. Nostalgia is probably the best way to listen to this album. Put aside any desires for a new sound, just think yourself into the mind of a 1980s Rock kid, and blast it out loud and proud. For me, it’s what this band’s meant to be: unashamed, unabashed, pure good time Rock & Roll!