Diver Down

Van Halen

Warner Brothers, 1982


REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk


Those of you who read my review of Fair Warning know I am VH fan, which makes this review that much more difficult to write. On the heels of one of their best albums, they release what I consider to be the worst of the Roth-era albums, if not their worst ever.

The album starts off nicely with another of the many cover songs VH recorded. This time they hit the mark with their second Kinks cover, "Where Have All The Good Times Gone?" It's an excellent mid-tempo rocker with the requisite Eddie Van Halen guitar groove driving it along. This song could be a textbook for the right way to cover a song. First of all, it's the perfect vehicle for VH. You must pick a song that fits the artist first off, and these guys did that part right. It's got a steady groove, tongue-in-cheek lyrics complement David Lee Roth's style perfectly, and a sing-along chorus that you can still wail along with no matter how much time you've spent under the beer bong. In other words, a perfect song for VH. And, they stay faithful to the spirit and flavor of the Kinks' original, while adding their distinctive VH signature.

Next up is "Hang 'Em High." A great VH tune that has mostly been overlooked. A signature VH freight-train rhythm drives this one along, thanks to the always-reliable rhythm section of Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony (the same basic rhythmic theme which would show up later on this album on the mediocre "The Full Bug," and again on the album 1984 in "Hot For Teacher." Accompanied by the muscular vocal stylings of Mr. Roth, it's an ass-kickermy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

At this point something went very, very wrong. Forensic science has yet to recreate the actual events that took place, but the evidence is abundant.

Keyboards. Too many, too often, I know VH was trying to branch out at that period in their career, but the keys bring a feeling of middle-of-the-road, and sadly, would eventually contaminate many future VH tracks.

Two very uninspired instrumentals, "Cathedral" and "Intruder." These two tracks are a waste of Eddie's talents. They start off to nowhere and end up nowhere. In contrast, Eddie plays 45 seconds of Spanish guitar to intro "Little Guitars," and that is a far better listen than either of these tracks.

A terrible cover of Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman." Roth can't sing it and Eddie's playing didn't help it any. This track reeks of Roth's obsession with covering other people's music. (DLR's solo debut three years later would be an EP of all covers). The result was a big hit, which mystifies me to this day. It has none of the fragile beauty and passion of Orbison's original, and should never have even been attempted by what is essentially a heavy metal band. The next song is another cover that for me has never worked. "Dancing In The Streets" leaves me scratching my head to this day. For some reason, the public liked it and it also became another big hit. I never understood the appeal of either of these songs. Frankly, when this album came out anything VH touched turned to gold (or platinum). They probably could have gone platinum with "Eensy Weensy Spider," or ten tracks of sign language for that matter. So it's not surprising the public ate it up. The covers have become a real sore point for me, because VH have proven they can write great original music. So why, oh why, are there five cover songs on this album? Scholars will debate this one for ages I predict.

The second half of the album doesn't get any better for me. "Little Guitars" is forgettable, and Roth makes a mistake he rarely does; he sings way out of his range. Cover song number four (for those of you keeping score) is the old swing classic "Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)." Harmless for the most part, but not very interesting either.

Closing out the album is a hideous a-cappella version of the cowboy classic "Happy Trails."

Out of 11 tracks, we get five covers. Of the six original songs, only two were really enjoyable. Not a high point in the Van Halen legacy for this fan.

Rating: D+

User Rating: C



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