Crazy Times

Sammy Hagar & The Circle

Universal, 2022

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


After five decades in the business—lately including a new high-profile interview seemingly every other day—you might expect that Sammy Hagar has lost the capacity to surprise. Through a trio of huge bands (the groundbreaking Montrose, the iconic Van Halen, and latter-day supergroup Chickenfoot), a notable solo career, and multiple successful business ventures, Hagar has built a personal brand that at this point no longer requires introduction; he’s just Sammy.

A few years back Hagar decided—since a guy in his position can pretty much do what he wants—to put together a touring band capable of playing any song from any phase of his career. Power trio The Circle includes bassist/harmony vocalist/BFF Michael Anthony (Van Halen, Chickenfoot), ace guitarist Vic Johnson from Hagar’s solo band The Wabos, and drummer Jason Bonham bringing some Led Zeppelin thump to the bottom end. Successful touring led to the recording of 2019’s studio debut Space Between and now the new studio album Crazy Times.

For all his success over the years, Sammy Hagar has rarely been mistaken for a deep thinker. Across his lengthy songwriting career, the vast majority of his tunes have addressed one of four topics: sex, cars, partying and/or aliens. So it comes as a genuine surprise when Hagar suddenly manifests a new persona: instead of the familiar head-banging party-on-the-beach Sammy, Crazy Times introduces us to serious, reflective, mature Sammy. 

Several elements came into play in the development of this record. First, the pandemic; Hagar and The Circle kept busy during the worst of it with a series of remotely recorded “lockdown covers” of classic rock tunes shared on social media, the band seeming to grow even closer while apart. Second, Hagar officially reached his mid-70s during the writing of this album, turning 75 a couple of months ago. He still doesn’t sound or act his age most of the time, but the years do eventually carry some weight for even the sunniest of souls. Finally, Hagar went into the studio intending to make a quieter, more acoustic-focused album, but producer Dave Cobb—a Nashville scene veteran better known for working with Americana acts like Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton—was eager to crank it up and rock out in classic Sammy style.

What emerged, then, is a rangy brew of these influences: an album that’s alternately quiet and loud, gentle and hard-rocking, and consistently—now here’s a word I haven’t used in many Hagar reviews—thoughtful. Whether he’s reflecting on his age on acoustic opener “Intro: Beginning Of The End” or bringing the thunder on mid-tempo pounder “Slow Drain,” it’s a more serious Sammy than we’ve grown accustomed to. The latter opens with the image of a man “sittin’ on top of the world just countin’ your money” while the world burns around him, hammering away at this detached figure for caring only about himself.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Feed Your Head” continues the heaviness while flipping the script, pulsing backbeat and scrungy chords powering a tune about the need to pay attention to what’s going on in the world around you. If there wasn’t enough adrenalin in your system by now, the next track should take care of that. Strange as it sounds, Hagar and company’s cover of the Elvis Costello nugget “Pump It Up”—originally a mocking New Wave answer to mainstream rockers like Hagar—is transformed into an all-out assault that offers a giddy moment of celebration and release.

Hager’s original intentions for the album come to the fore with “Be Still,” a contemplative, self-aware, acoustic-and-electric number that takes stock of his life while singing about the vital nourishment he gets from giving himself “a moment to chill.” The tempo jumps again right away on the big-boned, loose-limbed rocker “You Get What You Pay For,” and then we’re into the title track. “Crazy Times” is an airy, livewire number fueled by a sizzling core riff that the band plays with genuine fire as Sammy essays the insanity of the world we’ve lived through these past few years while reminding us that “we’re all gonna die” one day.

It's a hint of what’s really on Sammy’s mind—his own mortality—but before we get all the way there, he’s got one more curveball to throw. Raucous funk-rocker “Funky Feng Shui” sounds like a Chickenfoot leftover, all playfulness and pizzazz and precious little substance. Only then do we get to what you suspect Sammy originally envisioned as the centerpieces of the album. “Father Time” is a solemn, soaring, initially acoustic ballad about reaching a certain age and looking back on your life, knowing “it ain’t over yet” but accepting that there’s more road behind you than in front.

Album finale “Childhood’s End” is dressed up in familiar hard rock trappings but might be the most serious song here, a hard-nosed self-assessment and summing-up:

“It's not what you thought or what you've been told
It's about growing up, not growing old
It's not what you think, it's more what you feel
Don't question your heart, this is real”

This isn’t the most familiar territory for a guy who made his name singing about “Cruisin’ & Boozin’” on a “Rock ’n’ Roll Weekend”—but it works. Hagar and The Circle sound energized and fully committed to these songs, and Cobb does a great job from the control room of capturing and focusing that enthusiasm.

Plenty of folks reach the top and figure they have nothing left to prove, so why keep trying so hard? Sammy Hagar takes the opposite fork in that road here, pushing himself and his band to make something that’s more than just entertainment, that has real heart and a healthy dose of self-awareness. Hagar is unlikely to ever win any awards for his lyrics, but there’s no doubt he’s a doggedly sincere songwriter, and in Crazy Times he and The Circle have delivered an energetic, melodic, and surprisingly powerful statement about living life fully all the way to the end. Long may they run.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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