Oddly, Van Halen chose “Tattoo” as the first “single” (if there is such a thing anymore) off their first album with David Lee Roth in 28 years. It might be one of the weaker songs on the album. Normally I can’t really dig an album the first time around, but I’ve run ADKoT through once, and played a few of the songs a couple of times, and I’m just… stunned.
Diamond Dave is notoriously difficult to live with, to put it mildly. If you believe Sammy Hagar, Eddie Van Halen is practically certifiably nuts, almost completely incapable of composing a song. Maybe that was true a few years back; Eddie, it’s no secret, isn’t the clean-living type. Given the stories about these guys, it’s hard to imagine that they were able to put out anything, let alone a rock masterpiece.
The music on ADKoT proves, beyond any doubt, that Eddie Van Halen is still the best rock guitarist on the planet. His hooks are infectious and dirty, melodic and gritty. The album is loud. Really loud! There’s no pop like “Can’t Stop Lovin’ You” or “Dreams.” ADKoT has the grit of VH’s first four albums, and none of polish of 1984 or the so-called Van Hagar output. VH was criticized for resurrecting old material — old outtakes and demos from 70’s and 80’s — for this album, but that best explains why this album has elephant balls. You can tell you’re listening to Van Halen, but it sounds like the young, hungry, partying Van Halen of the early 80’s. At the risk of sounding like an ageist, it’s hard to believe guys pushing 60 still have enough fire in ’em to rock this hard.
I expected more songs with a bit of shuffle to them. It’s easy to imagine that Diamond Dave would try to make an album of uptempo show tunes. But this is rock, pure and simple. The only song that has a softer feel is “Stay Frosty,” an “Ice Cream Man” for the 2000’s. “You and Your Blues” is pure stomp, with just enough pop to make you think of “Jamie’s Cryin’.”
“China Town” is Van Halen doing thrash… well sort of. It cooks like a honest-to-goodness metal song. “Bullet Head” isn’t really much different. It would fit nicely right next to “Romeo Delight.” “Blood and Fire” reminds me of “Unchained,” 3 parts metal, 2 parts pop. It’s one of the songs that is unmistakably vintage VH.
For “AsIs,” Eddie must have tuned his guitar way down. It’s got a blues metal boogy with a punk vibe. Guys half their age would have a helluva time keeping up with it. Van Halen’s never done anything like “Honeybabysweetiedoll.” The intro sounds like extraterrestrials of the old B movies. The guitar growls and bites. “Outta Space” is another big guitar boogy that would be impossible for any guitar rock fan to resist.
The things about this album that jump out at me the most are:
- Eddie might be playing the best guitar of his life!
- David Lee Roth can still sing (at least in the studio)
- Either Wolfgang Van Halen is one of the best bass players around — a far superior player to Michael Anthony — or Van Halen finally decided to put out an album where the bass could be heard in the mix on all the songs. Whatever the case may be, the kid’s amazing!
- Alex Van Halen is still among the best rock drummers ever; no resting on his laurels on this album.
- The lyrics are not atypical for David Lee Roth, but there’s little or nothing on there that would embarrass him. He’s a more clever — and more eccentric — writer than Sammy Hagar by miles.
- The true “brown sound” is mostly gone. Eddie’s new gear sounds so different from the stuff he was using the last time they worked with Roth. But you can still here Eddie in the crunch. “Big River” is a good example of the brown sound finding its way to the surface.
If you like Van Halen, run to the store or to amazon or wherever and get your hands on ADKoT. If you just like rock, you’ll have no complaints and it will be $12-15 well spent.