Women And Children First

Van Halen

Warner Brothers, 1980


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Whenever I have difficulty deciding what the next album I should dig out of the Pierce Archive (our motto: "The Bears suck !!!") for reviewing, I usually get a great suggestion via e-mail from a reader.

Trent Nakagawa, for example, is someone who likes to keep me on my toes by suggesting those albums that others might not think about. The last time we talked, Trent asked me about digging out some old Van Halen - one that many people might not have in their collections. Bingo - today's review subject, 1980's Women And Children First.

Following the runaway success of their self-titled debut in 1978 and the followup Van Halen II in 1979, Eddie Van Halen and crew faced a difficult decision: continue in the same musical path and risk stagnation or take a different approach to the music and see what the end result is. They chose the second path - and started the band down a path of three albums that found them struggling to find their musical direction. Women And Children First is not a terrible album, but it shows the band's ideas swamping them.

The opening cut, "And The Cradle Will Rock," was a solid enough rocker to suggest that clown prince of rock David Lee Roth and crew still had the magic that had powered their last two albums. This song also features what I think is the first noticeable use of keyboards as a major part of a Van Halen song; the mellotron in the rhythm track is actually an intregal part of the song, and without it, the track would be much weaker. Eddie Van Halen turns in a traditionally great solo, if not one that was a little more controlled.

After this one song, though, the rest of the band's past is thrown right out the window. The followup track (and the only other one that gets regular radio play) "Everybody Wants Some" features Roth leading the band into cock-rock territory with a jungle beat. Roth's spoken-word asides in the instrumental break is a sign of things to come for the band (Roth in the middle of my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 1984's "Panama," Sammy Hagar on 5150's "Good Enough") - the creation of a plot within the song. As rock numbers go, this one is merely okay, and is nowhere close to their best.

The remainder of Women And Children First is just one big experiment - and one that, for the most part, fails more often than it succeeds. The opening guitar orgasm of "Fools" seems like Eddie Van Halen is trying to recapture the glory of "Eruption" (off of Van Halen), while the remainder of the song is a weak attempt at shuffle blues. "Could This Be Magic?" is the band's first serious attempt at an acoustic track - a funny thing for a hard rock band to want to master - and is a waste of time. And "Loss Of Control" - hell, I'm at a loss to explain what this track was supposed to be. The frenzy of the song and the vocal delivery is one big mess - avoid it at all costs.

But this is not to say that all the experiments on Women And Children First are bombs. The album's closer, "In A Simple Rhyme," is a song that does not get the attention that it should. The vocal harmonies, combined with the sudden shifts from balls-out attack to softer, melodic strains, remind me a lot of The Who in their glory days. Whatever the case, it works - even Roth manages to tone his delivery down to meet the demands of the track. Also, the closer on side one, "Romeo Delight," is a pleasant little number that is a sign of things to come just one album later, on Fair Warning.

Am I saying that Van Halen should have stayed in the same vein that their first two albums did? Not necessarily - by the second side of Van Halen II, you could hear a little bit of experimentation going on. This was for good reason - their sound was beginning to stagnate, and the band needed to find fresh ideas to keep them on the top of their game, However, I don't think that going to acoustic-based numbers like "Could This Be Magic?" was the answer - it sounds as out of place as the jazz number "Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)" did on Diver Down.

Possibly had Van Halen combined the slightly harder, keyboard-driven edge ("And The Cradle Will Rock") and the melodic, harmony-driven style ("In A Simple Rhyme") for the bulk of the album, they would have found multi-platinum success much earlier than they did. Instead, Van Halen throws the road map they had followed away - and promptly get lost pulling out of their own driveway.

Women And Children First isn't a bad album - it's just a very different listen. I think I liked it more when I was younger - maybe I'd feel a little different about this album on another day. I think you'll make the same discovery - you'll either hate this album or love it... though your opinion may flip-flop depending on what day of the week it is and where the moon is in the sky. This one is worth checking out, but approach it with caution.

Rating: C

User Rating: A-



© 1997 Christopher Thelen 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, and is used for informational purposes only.