Van Halen III

Van Halen

Warner Brothers Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: Bill Ziemer

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/18/1998

I remember the phone ringing a few weeks ago. I was surfing the net, and slugging down a huge glass of cola, trying to prepare for a long day.

"Bill!" said the voice. "That you?"

Very hungover, I mustered a faint "Hi Chris."

"You heard that new Van Halen tune?"

"Not yet."

"I thought Sammy was OUT!"

"Huh?"

"Cherone sounds like Hagar on this new song!"

"GARY Cherone? Sounds like Hagar?"

"I couldn't believe it either!"

Puzzled, I entered the shower and promptly forgot our conversation. But a couple of days later, I'm shooting down U.S. 6, and the unmistakable sound of Van Halen fills my car. I wasn't paying much attention at first, because I didn't realize it was new Van Halen. Instead, I found myself thinking; "I wonder where I missed this song on the Twister soundtrack." Realizing my stupidity, I turned up the radio to get my first glimpse of Van Halen III, the first of the Cherone-era Halen albums.

If this is any indication of things we can expect from the third era of Van Halen, it'll be a pretty depressing era. This is not a good album. Not only is it sad how much they made Cherone sound like Hagar, but the entire album is a muddled mess of misguided production and musical direction. This has to be the flattest sounding Van Halen album I've ever heard. There is very little bottom, and Cherone either doesn't have the vocal boom to pull off the sound they tried to achieve here, or producer Mike Post fell asleep at the wheel. Cherone sounds like he's feet from the microphone on this album.nbtc__dv_250

The album begins with "Neworld", a pseudo-moving instrumental that, I assume, is supposed to bring in the latest era of Van Halen dramatically. It fails and comes off sappy instead, and you find yourself a bit embarrassed.

Next is "Without You", the first single off the album, and the track that had Chris and I amazed at how shameless a Hagar wanna-be they made Cherone sound. I use the word "made" here because if you've ever heard an Extreme album, I betcha $100 you never said, "Gee, this guy sounds like Sammy Hagar." If anything, Cherone's dupe of Hagar's voice is a testament to his vocal talents, because he does a good job at the imitation. What's depressing is that he fails to bring his own style to the band. It would be one thing if he sang Sammy's old stuff live just like Sammy. That would be impressive. Instead, he records all of his songs in Sammy's voice, making you wonder if he just didn't have the creative prowess to do anything else. Or maybe they made him do it, like I stated earlier. Either way, it's pretty sad. When Sammy joined the band, he took the band in a whole new direction. The band was reborn. With Cherone singing, the album would have been more aptly named "...continued", rather than Van Halen III.

My biggest complaint with Sammy Hagar was the fact that he wasn't exactly a great lyricist. The stuff he wrote was always kind of cliche. But he made up for any deficiency here in other areas. On this album, Cherone makes Hagar seem like Nietzche. Allow me to sample a section of "One I Want's" lyrics:

"Pizzaman, just want a slice

Badman, looking for attention

<snip>

Candyman, yeah the candyman can

Blackman, he looking for justice

Whiteman, trying to get a tan"

Huh?

Enough of this drudgery. The album's high point is "Once", a synthesized ballad that is the most suitable song for Cherone's style. It has a catchy melody and actually makes you want to listen to it, which is more than I can say for most of this album. Still, the song drags on for nearly eight minutes, endlessly repeating the same melody, until you begin screaming "Enough! Stop it!" until pieces of your vocal cords begin splintering the air at several hundred miles an hour. Even the album's high point becomes unwelcome.

Somewhere, two previous Van Halen singers are having a good laugh. Between them, they have (with Van Halen) recorded some of the greatest rock songs ever written. This album can't rip out a great rock tune, and it can't move you with a ballad. This album plods along without even the slightest hint of direction. Some songs even sound mistimed. Still others sound completely non-linear, which is to say they sound like different songs mashed together to form a whole. (We'll make it fit!) I don't mean to pin this all on Cherone; it's obviously not all his fault. But, the reality here is that Cherone brought nothing to Van Halen like he did Extreme. This album would have been better with David Coverdale on it. They could have re-named the band "Van Snake". At least that would have been funny.

Rating: F

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