I know when I listened to Van Halen’s debut album – I think the only album of theirs I’ve actually listened to all the way through before this one – I was thinking it lacked one thing: synthesizers. The decision to add a cheesy ’80s synth to a sound that was already pretty fucking dumb would be considered pretty awful only people have terrible taste in music and this record went Diamond in the US. (The British were sensible for once – it only went Gold there. Hooray!)
The appeal of Van Halen to someone like me is basically Eddie’s solos. That’s it. I don’t think he is a very good songwriter (or whomever is primarily responsible for the melodies.) And “Jump” and “Panama” have been played so damn much they are soooo annoying at this point.
I don’t like Roth’s lyrics. They are dumb, they are nearly singularly focused and they often feel lazy to me. I get that he’s supposedly this very charismatic, compelling performer, and I tried to give him his due for his influence on a decade of party frontmen in my review of their debut, but I can’t say he makes me like this band or this music. He’s just tiring. I bet spending time with him is just an absolute blast.
But it’s the synthesizer that really does it for me here. Without it, I’d probably bump this up one and say “what the hell, I don’t like it but it’s better than hair metal” or something like that. But the synthesizer noodling that opens the album – that was already a cliche before Van Halen released their first record -immediately gets the record off on the wrong foot. And every time it comes back I just want Eddie to play guitar. And he does that well – very well. But there’s nothing here for me to latch on to, to justify to myself that this record is anything but big dumb rock and roll. The solos are fine but none of them expand my mind like they should. (If they’re here, I missed them because I was so annoyed by the synthesizer and Roth.) The rhythm playing seems to have improved but I’m not sure I care.
I just really don’t like Van Halen, I guess. I’d rather listen to so much other stuff.
PS: Actually the solo at the end of “Drop Dead Legs” is pretty good.