What’s that tapping sound, is it…no..yes…it’s my foot! Well there you have it, review by extremity. 28 years ago it was 1984, and the world was covered in spandex. With their album, the coincidentally titled 1984, selling roughly 12,000,000 units per second, Van Halen lorded it over the hairwaves. It was the ’80s, everything was big. Hair was big, crotch bulges were big, bands travelled the world in liveried jumbo jets and Alex Van Halen’s bass drum sounded like a bomb going off. Van Halen ruled the world (Eddie even contributing his trademark axe shredding sound to the decade’s biggest record Thriller), and were set to play gigs on the Sun, Moon and apparently Jupiter.
But it all came to a head. Infighting led to Lee Roth leaving the band. After all, when it came down to it, it wasn’t his name on the side of the jet, and with a burgeoning solo career in the offing off he went. Van Halen drafted in Sammy Hagar, whose hair wasn’t nearly as big, and, inevitably fell out with him. Then the guy from soft rock warblers Extreme. Then he left. They fell out with bassist Michael Anthony, and he left too (they have replaced him on this album with Eddie’s son, Wolfgang, and the boy, it seems, can play. He was born in 1991. Dave Lee Roth has codpieces that are older).
But they couldn’t stay mad at Diamond Dave Lee Roth for ever. He’s a cool guy. And those stage antics, the running and jumping and doing the splits that apparently so enraged Eddie Van Halen sometime last century must be a thing of the past, what with Dave entering his 150th year on this earth. Now it’s just about the music man. And the music is the way it used to be. Honest to goodness, toe and head tapping Heavy Rawk. The years roll back, which works both ways. Hasn’t the world moved on?
A lot has happened in the world in those intervening years. Governments come and go, buildings collapse, wars are waged, bubbles have burst. In Van Halen’s world things are pretty much as they left it when Dave stormed off in a huff. ‘Tattoo’ , the opening track, is a song that very well might be about a tattoo. That’s the level we’re at here, stomping, solo-encumbered blues rock, about tattoos, rather than fiduciary concerns or socio-political problems. Tattoos and of course women, or “girls” as they’re known in California, and having a rare ould time despite having a new hip put in. No subject is too trivial to rock to, after all.
“We came through blood and fire” sings Lee Roth, on ‘Blood and Fire’. Perhaps it’s a euphemism for “drugs and ego clashes”. “Told ya I was coming back”, he says, although I don’t recall this conversation. The album never relents on this pace and rockingness. What it doesn’t have is any keyboards, and is more reminiscent of pre 1984 Van Halen, with not a lot of overdubs, save for a few extra solos shoehorned in here and there. There’s no lame attempts at drum and bass, no dubstep version of ‘Jump’, nothing remotely modern, thank god. It’s as if time has stood still, the stonewashed denim preserved in aspic. But why would they change, this is the music that made them gazillionaires and afforded them the luxury of owning their own continent, Vanhalen’s land, just off Australia. The scary thing is, what with batwings and shoulder pads, emigration and synthpop being all the current rage among those with their original hips, perhaps the ’80s’ other great gift to popular culture, the crotch-stuffed, tight-strided, swagger-infused Hair Rock of Ratt and Poison and those lot is due a comeback. Perhaps Van Halen are the Van Guard of the new perm-rock. Someone let Mama’s Boys know.
All hail the new truth, same as the old truth. Amen.