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Havin' a Ball With David Lee, Megadeth and Metallica : Check List **** Great Balls of Fire *** Good Vibrations ** Maybe Baby * Running on Empty

January 24, 1988|CHRIS WILLMAN

***DAVID LEE ROTH. "Skyscraper." Warner Bros.

Doggone if David Lee Roth's second solo album isn't the most flat-out rambunctiously enjoyable hard-rock album since, well, David Lee Roth's first solo album.

The two years in between have been too long to wait for a party friendly album with guitar riffs this loud and chunky and a lyric sheet you cannot only bring yourself to look at but actually enjoy perusing with a clear head. Even if this guy's eyes get a bit on the bloodshot side, there's never a doubt with Roth that the lights are on and somebody's home.

Roth does play it a bit straighter this time out, in more ways than one. "Skyscraper" finds everyone's favorite wry rock 'n' roll vaudevillian doing less hamming and more real singing.

And while the silly renditions of big-band standards, more jokey novelty tunes and innuendo-laden party anthems are missed to varying degrees, the harmony-filled future hit singles that increasingly take their place aren't bad--namely, the three tunes co-written by Roth with recent keyboard addition Brett Tuggle, including the Top 10-bound "Just Like Paradise." Putting the clown persona aside, Roth even pulls off a mostly acoustic ballad, "Damn Good," in the plaintive Page/Plant style of old.

But it's not like this stuff is so serious that it's like homework or so pop that it's like Bon Jovi. The songwriting collaborations of Roth and guitarist Steve Vai are still largely on the frantic and funny side. A title like "Hot Dog and a Shake" tells you a lot of what you need to know, and the closing "Two Fools a Minute" is a wonderfully nonsensical romp augmented by a horn section. Roth's lyrics make some surprisingly nice colloquial observations in the midst of his light-hearted heavy-metal: You might call it dude poetry .

Vai continues to fill in for Eddie Van Halen as Roth's guitar foil just fine, thanks. He's the kind of technician who can move from fusion chords to ZZ Top riffing in the same song--and, left unchecked to solo and show off interminably, might well drown you with his dexterity. But he is checked here, and in short, now-you-hear-him-now-you-don't doses, he's a delight. Some of his sound effects are pure, gimmicky flash, but economical enough flash to put a smile on your face and leave you wondering, "Who was that masked man?"

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