“5150.” Van Halen. Warner Bros.
Here it is! The first Van Halen album without the brash and colorful David Lee Roth, who’s been replaced by the brash and anonymous-sounding Sammy Hagar.
Van Halen still has its three terrific musicians--guitarist Eddie Van Halen, drummer Alex Van Halen and bassist Michael Anthony. But fans of what has been arguably the best little ol’ rock ‘n’ roll band in the land over the last few years, give or take a ZZ Top, are advised to use one of the following three plans to avoid disappointment.
Plan A: Don’t even buy the LP. Buy the first single instead. You’ll save money and still get the best two songs on the album: “Why Can’t This Be Love” dances around a treated-guitar riff that serves as a simple but lithe pivot point. Melodic, jazzy and giddily happy, this song is one of Van Halen’s best ever. Hagar, as he does through most of the LP, sounds more inspired and spirited than on his solo outings, though he remains practically indistinguishable from several other hard-rock singers. Flip the single over and you’ve got a fast and tricky raver in “Get Up,” featuring one of Eddie’s fantastic arpeggiating breaks.
Plan B: OK, buy the album, but play only the first three tracks. Coincidentally or not, they’re the also the best three tracks, consisting of the aforementioned two songs and the lead-off cut, “Good Enough.” In this devil-may-care blazer, Hagar does his darnedest to sound like Roth, delivering all sorts of shouts, laughs, whistles and asides. If not top-notch Van Halen, “Good Enough” lives up to its name.
Of course, seven bucks for an album seems a lot to pay just to hear three songs. So, there’s. . . .
Plan C: Play the first three songs and the last two songs only. This is a risky plan for anyone who really doesn’t want to be let down, but “5150" and “Inside” both have enough of the old VH fire to be enjoyable.
“5150" starts strong with a full minute of Eddie’s playing before Sammy opens his mouth. Once he does, though, the song’s just passable. “Inside” is a marginally more interesting song, though it’s the track where the whoop-and-giggle-it-up show of jocosity becomes most unconvincing.
And what if you don’t follow any of the above plans but listen to the whole album? You get four other songs that sound like outtakes from an old Sammy Hagar album, dull rock numbers performed dully, with one exception: “Dreams,” a sort of rockin’ ballad, sounds as if it had enough thought in the writing to really be something, but Hagar’s most annoying vocal on the LP wrecks it. Here he’s not just anonymous, but shrilly anonymous.
Despite its very mixed quality, “5150" indicates that this new combination may eventually turn into something more solidly worthwhile. Meanwhile . . . it’s your turn now, Dave.