Van Halen

Warner Brothers Records, 1986


REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


Yogi Berra once said, "You've got to be careful if you don't know where you're going 'cause you might not get there." Confused? Now you know what I felt like after listening to 5150.

I honestly don't have that much experience with Van Halen. I own 1984, and their Greatest Hits and have heard various other tracks. However, I think I have a good idea of what Van Halen was supposed to sound like back in the day. 5150 to me is a departure from that previous sound. Was it for the better? Wait and find out.

This album is known as being the first Van Halen album to feature Sammy Hagar, who replaced former lead vocalist David Lee Roth. So how does the change work out? Let's just say this, David Lee who? Roth was never a great vocalist in my eyes. This is probably considered sacrilege, but I believe Roth was just there because the band needed someone to sing the songs, while Eddie Van Halen tore it up. Luckily for Roth, he was extremely charismatic and energetic, and got by on that. So how does the situation differ with Hagar? He actually can sing.

From the minute you hear Hagar growl at the very start of the album " Hey Baby…" you know that Van Halen made the right choice in going after Sammy. Hagar gives each track all he's got, whether it be sultry growls on "Good Enough" to arena rock screams on "The Best Of Both Worlds," or plaintive cries on Van Halen power ballads like "Dreams," or "Love Walks In." Hagar's unbridled enthusiasm makes up for singing lyrics like, "U.S Prime, Grade A Stamped Guaranteed, just grease it up and bring on the heat," on the FDA friendly "Good Enough." By the way, he's referring to a woman, in case you didn't catch that. Hey, this is Van Halen after all, right?my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

1984 was the album in which Van Halen truly embraced synthesizers. The trend continues on 5150 to an even greater extent, and again Eddie proves some of his synth riffs are just as memorable as his guitar riffs. However, from this point on Van Halen would rely more and more upon synthesizers, drum triggers and the like. The classic Van Halen sound started to fade away with 5150. Nevertheless, Eddie was still at the point where those "80s sounds" were a new avenue for him to take, and it would work. The brilliant intro to the big single off the album, "Why Can't This Be Love" is a pulsating, New Wave-ish beat, the likes of which never heard before on a Van Halen record. The power ballads on the album get the full synth treatment as well. It is these latter songs that really stood out to me while I was listening.

I swear to God, Van Halen covers Journey during this album. "Dreams" and "Love Walks In" could easily have been on an album like Escape. When Hagar hits the high notes on "Dreams" he sounds an awful like Steve Perry to me. How much you like these tracks depends on how much you appreciate a good pop song, because that's what they are. These songs aren't "Running With the Devil Part 2." This is not the Van Halen of old.

Let's get one thing straight; Eddie Van Halen is Eddie Van Halen on 5150. His solos are works of art; so incredible you can't believe he actually performed them. Along with Angus Young of AC/DC, I consider Eddie Van Halen to be the best in rock at writing memorable riffs. With Van Halen, it seems like every average riff you hear could be huge with another band. At times, I was almost desensitized to them. Speaking of AC/DC, the title track has one of the best riffs never to have been on an AC/DC record. "Summer Nights" is raunchy, yet intensely melodic. This is arena rock at its best.

So if Eddie was on, how could I give this album less than an A? Well, it's like this. There are no dull tracks on the album, however there are only a few memorable ones. The Van Halen sound is there, but it's different. It's not as crisp as it used to be, there's too much in the mix. The riffs are consistently amazing, but at this point the fans were used to that. If this were a Journey or Bon Jovi album, I would probably have greater praise. However, this is Van Halen. On 5150, the band tries to add something new to their sound, but in the process they sound a little less like the Van Halen we all know and love.

Rating: B

User Rating: B



© 2004 Jeff Clutterbuck 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.