Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Van Halen

  • Van Halen [Warner Bros., 1978] C
  • Van Halen II [Warner Bros., 1979] C+
  • Women and Children First [Warner Bros., 1980] B
  • Fair Warning [Warner Bros., 1981] B-
  • Diver Down [Warner Bros., 1982] B-
  • 1984 [Warner Bros., 1984] B+
  • 5150 [Warner Bros., 1986] C+
  • OU812 [Warner Bros., 1988] C
  • For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge [Warner Bros., 1991] Dud
  • The Best of Van Halen, Vol. 1 [Warner Bros., 1996] *
  • Van Halen 3 [Warner Bros., 1998] Dud

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Van Halen [Warner Bros., 1978]
For some reason Warners wants us to know that this is the biggest bar band in the San Fernando Valley. This doesn't mean much--all new bands are bar bands, unless they're Boston. The term becomes honorific when the music belongs in a bar. This music belongs on an aircraft carrier. C

Van Halen II [Warner Bros., 1979]
Never let it be said that popular styles don't evolve--in the wake of Kiss and Boston, this is heavy metal that's pure, fast, and clean. No mythopoeia, no bombast, and even the guitar features are defined as just that. So how come formalists don't love the shit out of these guys? Not because they're into dominating women, I'm sure. C+

Women and Children First [Warner Bros., 1980]
Eddie VH's quicksilver whomp earns the Hendrix comparisons, and he's no clone--he's faster, colder, more structural. David Lee Roth adds a wild-ass sophistication to the usual macho--no mortal arena singer would even think of the goofy country blues takeoff that provides the title. But the message of the music isn't the exuberance of untrammeled skill, it's the arrogance of unchallenged mastery. Without being pompous about it, which is a plus, these guys show as little feeling for their zonked, hopelessly adoring fans as Queen. They're kings of the hill and we're not. B

Fair Warning [Warner Bros., 1981]
Pretty impressive show-off stuff--not just Eddie's latest sound effects, but a few good jokes along with the mean ones and a rhythm section that can handle punk speed emotionally and technically. At times Eddie could even be said to play an expressive--lyrical?--role. Of course, what he's expressing is hard to say. Technocracy putting a patina on cynicism, a critic might say. B-

Diver Down [Warner Bros., 1982]
Less impressive, if only because hangloose covers like "Big Bad Bill" and "Happy Trails" are for more attractive bands. More attractive, if only because the Ray Davies and Roy Orbison covers are so carefully conceived. Attractive sexist original, unatttractive (hence unimpressive) sexist original, guitar as cathedral organ. And so it goes. B-

1984 [Warner Bros., 1984]
Side one is pure up, and not only that, it sticks to the ears: their pop move avoids fluff because they're heavy and schlock because they're built for speed, finally creating an all-purpose mise-en-scene for Brother Eddie's hair-raising, stomach-churning chops. Side two is consolation for their loyal fans--a little sexism, a lot of pyrotechnics, and a standard HM bass attack on something called "House of Pain." B+

5150 [Warner Bros., 1986]
Wonder how the guitar mavens who thought Eddie equalled Van Halen are going to like his fireworks displays and balls-to-the-wall hooks now that video star David Lee Roth has given way to one of the biggest schmucks in the known biz. No musician with something to say could stomach responding to Sammy Hagar's call, and this album proves it. C+

OU812 [Warner Bros., 1988]
Not that they give a shit, but trading Dave for Sammy sure wrecked their shot at Led Zep of the '80s--master guitarist, signature vocalist, underrated rhythm section. They wouldn't have made it anyway, of course. Eddie's obsessed with technique, Roth's contemptuous of technique, rhythm section's got enough technique and no klutz genius. But Sammy . . . like wow. If I can't claim the new boy owns them (property rights they protect), you can't deny he defines them. Not that they give a shit. C

For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge [Warner Bros., 1991] Dud

The Best of Van Halen, Vol. 1 [Warner Bros., 1996]
preening for the spotlight, they can be funny and spectacular--until Sammy Hagar horns in ("Jump," "Runnin' With the Devil") *

Van Halen 3 [Warner Bros., 1998] Dud