Fair Warning

Van Halen

Warner Brothers, 1981


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Once upon a time, rock bands were expected to put out one album a year. This caused many of them to spectacularly flame out due to the never-ending cycle of writing, recording and touring, with little to no time in between each activity.

Sometimes, the resulting albums were phenomenal. Sometimes, they sucked. And yet other times, they fell in-between. In the case of Fair Warning, the fourth effort from Van Halen, it was a close miss from phenomenal.

Coming off what some considered to be a disappointment with Women And Children First, this disc featured the boys rocking out, similar to their debut effort, only without the least concern for commercial potential. The only two songs which could be considered to be “single-worthy” were “Unchained” (which, to this day, does get a lot of play on satellite radio) and “So This Is Love,” though neither of them were the strongest efforts on the disc, albeit enjoyable tracks. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

From the opening fade-in of Eddie Van Halen's guitar work on “Mean Streets,” the listener knows they're going to be in for a hell of a trip. This song allows all four musicians to essentially get their groove on, even if it's not the best showpiece for David Lee Roth's vocals. It still is a musical punch to the face, letting the listener know that Van Halen demands to be listened to on their terms, not anyone else's.

From then on, it's down the debauched road with a two-fer of songs, “Dirty Movies” and “Sinner's Swing”. Of the two, the latter seems to let the band – particularly drummer Alex Van Halen – let loose and just have some fun with the performances. Bassist Michael Anthony gets to show he's more than a one-dimensional player on “Push Comes To Shove” - a weaker track, but one that again shows that Van Halen wanted to be seen as more than just a hard-rock party band.

Perhaps the hidden gem on this disc is “Hear About It Later,” a song which suggests the musical direction that the band would go later, first on 1984, then in the Sammy Hagar-era of the group. It's not overly pop, but it also doesn't slam the beat home like some of the heavier tracks on the disc. It's an interesting balance that is struck – and it works.

The closing tracks, “Sunday Afternoon In The Park” and “One Foot Out The Door,” are easily the weakest of the batch, and is not the ideal way to close the disc after showcasing many strengths of the band. The former seems to be the first time that Eddie Van Halen was able to showcase the synthesizer in the band, while the latter is just a hot mess of a song, with no real direction other than the guitar work.

Clocking in at just over a half hour, Fair Warning comes in, states its purpose, and leaves the listener wanting more. Had the last two tracks been replaced with one more solid rocker, this could easily have been the best album of the Roth era that Van Halen ever recorded. As it is, it's a very solid effort that remains the hidden gem of the first chapter of Van Halen's history.

Rating: B

User Rating: A-



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