For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge

Van Halen

Warner Brothers Records, 1991

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Back in 1991, when Van Halen released their ninth album For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, many long-time fans like myself were surprised at two things. First, that Sammy Hagar seemed to have put the shadow of David Lee Roth behind him. Second, that Van Halen had gotten away with, in a sense, putting the word "fuck" on their album cover (the word is derived from the album's title).

Six years after its release (and departure/firing of Hagar as lead throat), one thing is painfully clear: the music, like the album cover innuendo, gets old real quick.

The first sign of trouble is in the opening seconds of the first song, "Poundcake." Eddie Van Halen opens the album playing his guitar with an electric drill - too bad Paul Gilbert of Mr. Big was the first to do this. The song has a good melody, but the lyrical content is standard hard rock throughfare about wanting to get laid. (In case you need a clue, Hagar ain't singin' about dessert.) If you don't get the message with this song, then just wait a few minutes until "Spanked" comes on - c'mon, can't we get an original idea?my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The times that Van Halen gets creative, the ideas don't jell. "Judgment Day" is an ambitious track, but it falls short of the mark - lyrically, it is not one of the band's better tracks.

The same can't be said for "Runaround," easily the best song on For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. The melody is immediately catchy, and the song itself is well written. Hagar has rarely sounded as good, and Eddie Van Halen's guitar work is outstanding.

The ambition returns with the song "Pleasure Dome," a mistake from the beginning. The idea of cryptically speaking verses with an orgasmic pounding of the drums from Alex Van Halen just doesn't work for a band of Van Halen's style.

The second side of the album has the song that will probably always be the symbol of the Hagar era: "Right Now." This is an excellent song, one of the few ambitious cuts that works. The use of piano works perfectly with the crunching guitars and solid backbeat from bassist Michael Anthony and Alex Van Halen. There's a reason why this song and accompanying video are so popular.

If only the rest of the side were this strong. "Man On A Mission" is another failure, while yet another cock-rock song "In 'N' Out" is an improvement. "Standing On Top Of The World" sounds like a re-hash of older hits like "Jump," and is a painful sign that the band may have started to run low on the old creative juices.

Don't get me wrong, I loved For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge when it came out. But with the ability to look back at it and the band's history, it's clear that Hagar never seemed to make the band his own like Roth did when he manned the microphone. Whose fault this was is now a moot point - though I would tend to blame Eddie.

Fans of Van Halen, relax - there's still enough solid material on this one to make For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge worth a few listens. But in time, you'll realize that you got...

Whew - I stopped myself just in time.

Rating: C-

User Rating: B-



© 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 Records, and is used for informational purposes only.