Van Halen

Warner Brothers Records, 1995

REVIEW BY: Alfredo Narvaez


Every now and again, I feel like delivering a swift kick to my head. Way back, I happened to read "The Writer Formerly Known As Larry Williams"'s scathing review of Van Halen III and though, "Oh, that's just his opinion," before buying said album. Since then, I have tried my darnednest to like it, but to no avail. Van Halen III was boring, period. Apparently, enough people did not follow my example and Van Halen III quickly dissapeared from the charts. Now, three years removed from the Hagar-Roth-Cherone debacle, we hear that Gary Cherone decided to leave the Van Halen fold and the band is once again looking for a lead throat.

Why would I mention all that above? Because that album and this one share that main problem. As such, I present Van Halen's Balance -- the final album of the Van Hagar-era. And, as far as I'm concerned, it's the weakest entry.

Now, let me say that some things in this album are very good. The opener, "The Seventh Seal" is very cool and has a great presence. In many ways, this song helps set the ambience for the rest of the album. The opening Buddhist monks' chants helps set up the crashing entrance of the band. Here the band sounds like it's together and hitting all their marks -- which doesn't happen in other tracks.

Of course, there's no way to not like "Can't Stop Lovin' You." While not as strong a pop song as "Why Can't This Be Love?" or "Dance The Night Away," the song is one of the better tracks here. However, the stronger ballad is, without a doubt, "Not Enough." You could consider it an anti-ballad - because it speaks of love, not as a quick and easy thing, but something that takes a lot of work. I think this song could have been a sign of the maturity that was creeping into the band's songwritting.

Along these same lines is the album-closer, "Feelin'." I like the song, but it's not as strong as the first two and, more importantly, it's not strong enough to be the closing song of the album. (Note to every band and artists: Remember that the closing track in any album has got to be one of your strongest! You should leave us wanting more, not glad that it's over!)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Amazingly enough, it's the rockers here that end up bringing the album down. "Amsterdam" has got to be the dumbest song written by these guys. I know Hagar has an affinity to the voodoo root, but c'mon! The song isn't great and the chorus...well, we won't go there. "Big Fat Money" has a better attitude about itself - money can't be all that bad -- and it goes all out to the rock scale. Unfortunately, you can't understand the lyrics half of the time - and it isn't because it's loud - and the other half the song is...well...boring. You don't feel the need to stand and go along with its beat. It just plods and moves and leaves you waiting for it to catch a groove.

Of the three other mid-tempo songs left, only "Don't Tell Me (What Love Can Do)" is worthy of being here. The song is crunchy and, again, goes in this anti-ballad move that Van Halen was trying for this album. Many have gone on record as hating this song, but I think it's one of the better. On the other side, "Aftershock" is only cool for a brief moment -- the quick chorus -- but then the song returns to boring plodding. As for "Take Me Back (Deja Vu)," I never got to finish hearing this song -- always skipped ahead about midway through.

The one thing this album does bring back are the Van Halen trademarked instrumentals. Barely present during the Van Hagar-era (only "316" on the previous album), here you get THREE instrumentals -- if you want to call them that. "Strung Out" is supposed to be Eddie throwing ping-pong balls on piano keys -- not really interesting. "Doin' Time" is an Alex Van Halen drum solo. Not bad, but not that great. I think it would have been great in For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, but here it's too much. Then there's "Baluchitherium," which brings Alex, Eddie and bassist Mike Anthony together on a rockin' jam. Personally, I prefer only "Baluchitherium."

On the upside for Van Halen fans, this album has some of the best playing by guitar-god Edward. Amazingly enough, it has been Ed's playing that has carried Van Halen for the past couple of years. The rhythm section has a 50-50 average. Sometimes it clicks and sometimes it just barely functions. As for Hagar, he remains Sammy -- no change in his vocal delivery. On the downside, this album is perhaps a predecesor for the direction the band would head into for Van Halen III.

If by Balance, the band implied half of the album was good and half was bad, then I guess that's what it achieves. Some of the ballads work, most of the rockers don't and there's no sense of what Van Halen is trying to do. Musically, the band was expanding on its sound, but it seems as if it is stuck between choosing musical growth or remaining "The Mighty Van Halen." Either option would have been fine, but sitting in the middle is not achieving balance. It's called stagnation.

Of course, we can't know how that would have worked out. After the Balance tour, Ed and Sam fought and they broke up. Now, three years later, Van Halen is once again looking for someone new. Here's my tip: Pick someone who's going to let you move ahead. Don't look for Roth Version 2.0 or Hagar Version 3.0.

Rating: C

User Rating: C-


© 1999 Alfredo Narvaez and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Warner Brothers Records, and is used for informational purposes only.