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Formula Van Halen : Check List **** Great Balls of Fire *** Good Vibrations ** Maybe Baby * Running on Empty

Record Rack

May 22, 1988|CHRIS WILLMAN

**VAN HALEN. "OU812." Warner Bros. . . . Ate one what , too? Perhaps the title reference is to the worm at the bottom of a bottle of mescal mentioned in the song "Cabo Wabo," an obligatory anthem about drinking and dames south of the border. Or maybe it's just a wry reference to the hook, line and sinker with which America's collective male youth will be digesting this, the second album from the reconstituted Van Halen.

Even for grown-ups, it's not hard to swallow. If anything, the replacement of frontman David Lee Roth with singer Sammy Hagar a couple of years back has only increased the group's pop-harmony consciousness, which makes Eddie Van Halen's guitar attack go down that much easier. Eddie's solos these days are the very model of economy compared to those of his thousands of imitators.

Yes, 10 years after the band's debut, all the familiar elements are still well in place . . . except \o7 wit\f7 .

There's not one lyric as funny as the album title--which isn't saying much. Roth might have turned the paradise resort of "Cabo Wabo"--where there are "pretty girls coming by the dozens" ready to "make love in the sea"--into a parody of male fantasy, but with Hagar it's just male fantasy. The familiar instrumental elements have you salivating for the punch lines you've been conditioned to anticipate, until you realize that lines like "The wetter the better / Let's do it 'til we're black and blue" \o7 are\f7 the punch lines. Eat it and weep!

Too much formula spoils the broth, whether it's predictably slick, serious, synth-based "power ballads" (like "When It's Love," a dull follow-up to the previous LP's superior "Why Can't This Be Love") or rip-roaring heavy-metal party tunes. The expert playing and singing have to make up for a multitude of songwriting sins.

A few of the slightly more adventurous numbers, chief among them "Mine All Mine," suggest that Van Halen remains capable of growth and not just skillful self-imitation. Still, 10 years later, the band that was once such a joyously guilty pleasure has divested itself of enough joy to make one feel \o7 really\f7 guilty about enjoying too much of this.

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