"EAT 'EM AND SMILE." David Lee Roth. Warner Bros. It's a good thing that the present and former members of Van Halen are just rock musicians rather than international superpowers. The Van Halen Wars might have left the world looking like it does in "Road Warrior."
With new singer Sammy Hagar, Van Halen-after-the-schism got off the initial strike by releasing its album first, and scored an apparent victory when it went straight to No. 1. But the LP didn't stay there long--a lot of the missiles were duds, and Hagar proved an unexciting substitute for David Lee Roth.
Now Dangerous Dave fires back, and his attack is devastating--he's never sounded better. But after the dust has settled, the biggest winner may be neither Roth nor his old friends, but Frank Zappa alumnus Steve Vai. Who would have thought Roth could find such a tremendous replacement for guitar wizard Eddie Van Halen?
Not surprisingly, Vai has learned every Eddie trick in the book, but instead of being merely another imitator he's amazing in his own right. His style isn't just showy--it's constant showtime--almost too varied, colorful and playful. If he missed an opportunity for a racing arpeggio pattern or a fly-by harmonic or a split-second fret-jumping switch, I didn't catch it. Sometimes his ace pace just seems to be flash-for-flash's-sake, but mostly it's just wonderful, and Vai has his more subtly pleasing moments too, such as the Wes Montgomery-like intro to "Big Trouble."