Van Halen 3 Reviewed
Van Halen III (Warner Bros.)
This is just plain sad. Never mind Diamond Dave, Van Halen III makes me miss Sammy. A fellow music critic said this of the record: "I heard it wasn't very fun. What is Van Halen good for, if it isn't fun?" What's missing here is the chuckleheaded innuendoes of singers past and attention towards crafting pop melody -- the things that made Van Halen a favorite of frat houses across the nation.
Their newfound profundity is hard to discern with replacement singer Gary Cherone's vocals buried low in the mix. This is probably for the best -- Cherone's adenoidal yelp reminds me that his former outfit, Extreme, was little more than a cut rate Van Hagar cover band. "Dirty Water Dog" is as vital as the accompanying music in instructional guitar videos (i.e. airy synth parts, canned drumming). Many of the songs are little more than meandering bits and pieces glommed together. The lack of songwriting skills on this record render Eddie's mighty soloing ability obtrusive -- the solos only prolong the agony.
The single, "Without You," is the only song with any semblance of a pop hook. Still, it's no more than a revisiting of Balance's "Can't Stop Loving You." I guess the teary-eyed girls from Bon Jovi's live videos ("Never Say Goodbye," anyone?) have to have something new to sing along to in their Camaros. "Once," with all its phantom chukka-chukka noises and MIDI parts, sounds like adult radio fodder by Foreigner, Toto, or Asia in their '80s crap-o-la phase. "Josephina," the track that held up the record's release date, is hardly worth the wait. Eddie's signature way of hitting bell-like harmonics used to be the subject of intense study in guitar geek circles -- but the use of those techniques here makes the song sound like a cut off of a Craig Chaquico record. "Year to the Day" opens with a blend of chiming Renaissance faire guitar motifs and bluesy burrs. Cherone delivers an oh-so-delicate vocal that spirals downward into a caterwauling power ballad that uses the Scorpions' "Still Loving You" as a blueprint. The piano-laced softie "How Many Say I" is interesting only in that Eddie finally takes a stab at lead vocals. Unfortunately, the tune goes nowhere.
Right now might be a good time to retire.
- Howard Myint
Chicago Sun Times:
"Heat's Off, And Van Halen Turns In A Tepid Album"
The best part of David Lee Roth's supremely silly autobiography, "Crazy From the Heat," comes near the end, when he addresses his abortive reunion with Van Halen, the pop-metal band he helped make famous in the '80s.
``So what's so difficult about a reunion with these guys?'' Roth asks. ``I don't have to love them. I don't have to love you to make great music with you. You think all 75 people in the New York Philharmonic love each other?''
Everybody knows that a lot of great rock bands run on negative energy: Hate is as good as love when the goal is to get the blood boiling. Passion of any kind is what Van Halen lacked through Sammy Hagar's long tenure, and it's still lacking on the new ``Van Halen III.''
The band's 12th Warner Bros. album arrives in stores today, the first release of its third lineup with new singer Gary Cherone, formerly of the hair-metal band Extreme. Cherone is pretty much an accomplished cipher: He sings in the right register--high--but the only time he shows any personality is when he imitates Queen's Freddie Mercury, as on the bloated ballad "Josephina.''
``I've been looking for a singer like Gary all my life,'' guitar god Eddie Van Halen says in the press material accompanying the new album. By that he means he's been looking for a guy who would just add the words to and then croon his songs without giving him any grief.
It's understandable that the six-string virtuoso would tire of working with a showboat such as Roth or a misguided egotist such as Hagar. But it's sad that he's unwilling to challenge himself. Eddie just wants to do his thing at his home studio, hit the road, then go back to his loving wife, Valerie, and little son, Wolfgang.
Meanwhile, the rhythm section of bassist Michael Anthony and drummer Alex Van Halen plays with the loping gait of a couple of middle-aged golfers strolling the links--which is exactly what they are.
The surest sign that Eddie is going soft is that most of the big, dramatic spotlight solos on ``Van Halen III'' are based on acoustic finger-picking. There are fewer electric eruptions than ever here, indicating a dormant volcano, or at least one that's cooled down considerably.
This isn't to say that Eddie doesn't deserve a break after 20 years, what with his bum hip and all those singer-induced migraines. But only diehard Van Halen apologists will be able to compare the utterly generic nature of mid-tempo hard rockers such as ``Neworld,'' ``Without You'' and ``Fire in the Hole'' to the giddy enthusiasm of the tunes on the band's 1979 debut, the smash ``1984,'' or even Hagar high points like ``Ou812'' and ``For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.''
All told, "Crazy From the Heat" stands as better art than ``Van Halen III.'' And it rocks harder, too.
- Jim Derogatis
"Van Halen III Warner Bros.
Where have all the good times gone?
That's the big question on the tip of every self-respecting Van Halen fan's tongue this week. And for better or for worse, the long-running California party rock band's latest effort effectively answers that question once and for all. Unfortunately, you may not like the answer.
There's an old adage something to the effect of "the third time's a charm." Don't be so sure. Whoever said that obviously hadn't listened to Van Halen's III, so named to signify the debut of the band's Mach III lineup, rounded out by Bostonite Gary Cherone, late of Extreme, on lead vocals. Lest ye be confused, III in no way picks up where VAN HALEN II left off in 1979. Rather, it more likely indicates how many good song ideas Van Halen had when they started this record. Somewhere, Jamie's cryin', and with good reason.
It used to be a new Van Halen album was the perfect excuse for a summer-long keg party. These days, however, it's basically just an excuse for the band to go out on tour. And not even a good excuse, at that. But hey, that's life in the music biz. Love it or leave it.
For all intents and purposes, Van Halen ceased to exist in either 1984 or 1996, depending on which camp you belong to. Previous frontmen David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar, each of whom helped change the face of guitar rock during their tenure, have both gone on to bigger and better things, depending on what you consider to be bigger and better. Through it all, Van Halen brothers Eddie and Alex, along with bassist Michael Anthony, have persevered, refusing to succumb to what Eddie lovingly refers to as LSD (Lead Singer's Disease). Along the way, they've maintained an impressive consistency, while their fans have, for the most part, stayed true. However, with III, it appears that Van Halen may finally have pushed their luck a little bit too far.
But don't go blaming the new guy just yet. Maybe Sam and Dave were right.
Eddie, who goes by Edward these days, doesn't seem to have much gas left in the tank, inspiration-wise. He may very well be the most influential guitarist since Hendrix - having spawned an entire generation of guitar heroes - but those days are long gone. Edward's clearly still a talented guitar player, no question about it. But he's no Eddie Van Halen.
Maybe fatherhood has mellowed his royal badness, or perhaps his newfound sobriety has squelched his spark. In any case, one too many Sunday afternoons in the park have left Edward woefully out of touch. If he needs to have a beer or two (or three) to reignite his passion, I'd be more than happy to be his designated driver rather than suffer through this uninspired mess. Perchance a little Spanish Fly in his drink will do the trick.
After all the fighting and name-calling, you would expect that Van Halen would kick things off with a definitive statement, but III instead opens with a whimper in the form of the beautiful guitar ballad "Neworld," which actually makes a bolder statement than they probably intended - III has no balls.
Cherone summons a gutsy vocal performance to match Edward's punchy guitar on "Without You," the album's first single and one of its better tracks. Trouble is, he sounds exactly like Hagar, so much so that if you didn't know better, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference. Hell, Sam probably can't even tell the difference, and worse yet, the song sounds like it could've been a leftover from 1995's BALANCE. Not a good sign.
Neither Roth nor Hagar have ever been accused of being visionary lyricists, but check out this bit from "One I Want." Bogeyman, giving me the creeps/Sandman, kicking mud in your eye. Not that "Panama" was particularly profound, but c'mon guys. Work with us.
"From Afar" is the first of many tangential stretches on III, leading one to wonder if perhaps this album wouldn't have been better suited to a side project than a Van Halen release. Say this much for Cherone, though - he gives the band the added dimension. Van Halen probably couldn't have recorded a moody, schizophrenic rocker such as this with Roth or Hagar. Not that they would have wanted to.
Next up is "Dirty Water Dog." We've heard this before, Ed. It sucked the first time, too. As does "Once," which sounds almost exactly like Phil Collins' "In The Air Tonight." That is, with Hagar singing lead.
That's not to minimize Cherone's involvement on III, which is noticeable on the handful of tunes that don't sound like BALANCE throwaways. His is a kind of magic that takes Van Halen in a very Queen-like direction. Unfortu-nately for Cherone, it comes off sounding a lot more like HOT SPACE or INNUENDO than A NIGHT AT THE OPERA. And that's nobody's idea of fun.
"Fire In The Hole" shows some rare backbone from Edward, and despite Hagar ... er, Cherone's indecipherable caterwauling, it ends up being one of III's few tunes that actually live up to the band's colorful past. This one was obviously written and recorded before Edward switched to decaf.
"Josephina" starts off as another pretty power ballad that just doesn't cut it in the context of a Van Halen album. With this band, it's always been more than words, and a feeble attempt at writing another "More Than Words" isn't going to fly. Fortunately, things get interesting as the song progresses.
Not so for "Year To The Day," which intersperses little bits of fire and energy with so much wasted noodling on Edward's part en route to another listless power ballad. And yeah, Cherone still sounds exactly like Hagar.
"Primary" offers the requisite guitar instrumental to lead into Edward's onstage guitar solo. Coming from the guy who wrote "Eruption," it's not much. As for "Ballot Or The Bullet," apparently Cherone needs reminded that when Extreme started getting issue-oriented was when people stopped buying Extreme albums.
Much like it starts, III closes with a whimper, as Edward takes a puzzling vocal turn on the piano ballad "How Many Say I." Granted, Roth wasn't the most talented singer on the planet, but he was David Lee Roth. He didn't need to be. Edward is neither a talented singer nor David Lee Roth. And as we know, two wrongs don't make a right. Somebody get me a doctor.
Here's something for Edward to think about. Right now, Sam and Dave are probably hanging out at Cabo Wabo, pounding down a few beers and having a healthy laugh at his expense. Nevermind who was better. Everyone knows Roth was the balls. And Hagar was the brains. That leaves Van Halen as a band with neither balls nor brains.
All things considered, III isn't an entirely bad album. It's just an extremely bad Van Halen album. Skip this one in favor of BEST OF, VOLUME I. Then, turn it on, crank it up, wait for the tour and hope that one day, Van Halen and Roth get together to finish what they started."
NY Daily News 3/15:
'III's' Not The Charm
Van Halen's new singer brings out worst instincts VAN HALEN "III" (Warner Bros.)
As its title implies, Van Halen's "III" feels like the last wheeze of a movie series that kissed its prime goodbye years ago. The world's biggest-selling guitar band uses "III" to road-test its third lead singer, Gary Cherone, ex-screamer of the bad-hair band Extreme. He landed the job after the Halens canned previous frontman Sammy Hagar and then got into a punishing ego wrestle with original mouthpiece David Lee Roth, in the process screwing up a proposed reunion dreamed of by millions.
So how does Cherone measure up against his predecessors? On one level, he accomplishes the impossible: He actually makes you long for Sammy Hagar, the most inept rock singer this side of Jon Bon Jovi. Cherone's shrill and whiny voice proves so hoarse, he makes Hagar's instrument seem downright buttery. He makes David Lee Roth sound like Pavarotti.
When Cherone croaks over Van Halen's pile-driver guitar riffs, it seems less like a rock shout than a cry for help. At least Hagar could connect to the band's melodies. Cherone deforms them. He sounds like Yosemite Sam with a bad heat rash.
Some listeners may find relief in the fact that Cherone lacks the pervy leer of Hagar or Roth, a quality that certified their obnoxious middle-aged surfer-dude characters. But Cherone has no character to replace it. Maybe that's what group leader Eddie Van Halen wanted all along.
Both of the band's disgruntled ex-employees blamed their exits on Eddie's all-consuming struggle for control. The evidence on "III" supports their case. The album is Eddie's baby from start to finish, with the focus falling more solidly on his guitar work than any Halen effort to date. That could have been a good thing considering the guitarist's endlessly innovative pings and slides. But the result wreaks havoc on the band's sense of a song.
On their last studio albums with Hagar, the band came up with pop melodies so clear, even Hagar couldn't mess them up. You'll find nothing so winning here. There's no "Right Here," "Dreams" or "Why Can't This Be Love." The harder approach falls closer to Halen's earliest, pre-"Jump" albums with Roth. Yet even those crude works found some balance between riff-making and song. Here you'd be hard-pressed to find an organic connection between the snarling verses and the sweeter attempts at choruses. Most of the pop touches seem like afterthoughts, glued on to protect market share.
If anything, the clunky vocal sections just make you want to get to Eddie's guitar breaks that much faster. For fans of such things, the axman contributes some impressively complex instrumental parts. To accommodate them, most songs last longer than usual, ramming through a dizzying number of riffs. In one track, Eddie starts a solo by dragging behind the beat, setting a great syncopation in motion before sliding into a rash of double-timed fingerings and finally escalating to graceful long notes as majestic as the peak work of Robert Fripp. It's amazing that after two decades of plucking, Van Halen can keep coming up with new ways to bend notes, structure solos and hammer a whammy bar. Not that it's deep stuff, mind you. Eddie plays guitar the way a teenager rides a dirt bike, peeling out as many aural wheelies as possible. His latest work achieves a maturity in technical innovation, not emotion.
Likewise, the band's lyrics (often written by Cherone) present a somewhat more mature Halen. You'll find fewer of the early frat-house jokes, or mid-period beer-commercial philosophical burps. Instead, the words concentrate on more consequential love. If only someone else sang them.
Here's one solution: Maybe Eddie should finally give up on the idea of employing a singer altogether. Since he seemingly doesn't play well with others, why not just finally go it alone as an instrumental hero in the Joe Satriani/Steve Vai mold? That way, this guitar god could finally flex his skills at Olympian levels and leave the ego tussle to mere mortals.
Rolling Stone Magazine:
Which brings us to Van Halen III (1997-?), and new singer and lyricist Gary Cherone. Formerly of middling arena-rock band Extreme, Cherone sounds disconcertingly like Hagar, full of spleen-busting bluster and incapable of understatement. Though "Van Halen III" is conspicuously lacking in the frat-boy tomdroolery that so enamored Roth and Hagar to fans, it still contains its share of baying at the moon. "Press against your lips," Cherone heaves as he closes in on a one-night stand in "From Afar," "taste the sweetness of your breath."
Every Van Halen singer has had the extreme good fortune to be associated with one of the virtuoso pop-music talents of the last twenty years, guitarist Eddie Van Halen, who has learned how to put his six-string artillery in the service of an increasingly broad range of songs. But ever since the commercial breakthrough of "1984," his ambitions have outrun his band's ability to execute them. Cherone has one speed as a singer on "III" -- pained exertion -- and longtime bassist Michael Anthony and drummer Alex Van Halen sound as though they're lumbering at any tempo. When the band plays it heavy, it mires itself in a Seventies tar pit, with only the chorus of "Without You" achieving any sort of pop resonance. Instead, the most thrilling moments are when Eddie Van Halen waves goodbye to the songs with his gloriously warped solos or when he abandons the notion of hard rock altogether. "Once" is an ambient piano-and-synth track with a lonely guitar circling overhead, and "How Many Say I" finds the guitarist singing in a disarmingly appealing, nicotine-stained voice over a moody piano melody. One can only hope this last number is a prelude to "Eddie Van Halen I: The Solo Album."
-Greg Kot, gave it two stars ("fair").
From Music Web One:
After the firing of Sammy Hagar, Van Halen have enlisted the aid of Extreme vocalist Gary Cherone (lost in obscurity for most of his career and rescued from the stage production Jesus Christ Superstar) to carry on the VH name. He shared the same manager as Van Halen and as luck would have it, ended up as the new lead-singer. One would think that VH would want to pay a little more attention to who they hire, considering this comes at a very delicate time in their career.
Most of this album has been done before. At times you feel as if you are listening to OU812 or Balance. There is not much memorable here. There are the gimmicks - Eddie's lead vocal on one song, the sound effects of helicopters as well as other tired rock album cliches, but all the studio wizardry and time (it took over a year to make) cannot save this record. Cherone's voice is lifeless and sounds buried in the mix most of the album. Here are the more memorable songs:
This song took a long time to get the right mix and I have no idea why. From the beginning of the tune you almost want to turn it off. The hook of the piece is so irritating, it romps badly and out of control throughout the song. Cherone has called the song a "dream-scape" of sorts. I would say it is more of a post-reunion "nightmare". Cherone struggles with the melodies from start to finish. The guitar is even pretty laid back most of the song. However, "greedy" Ed (always one to want to stretch the boundaries of his power), decided HE would solo on a six-string bass. At first listen it's difficult to hear, by the second listen you say to yourself, "Maybe Mike Anthony is better than we thought." Towards the end, Ed and Gary try (unsuccessfully) to recapture the magic of the DLR days. VH should have left this song off the album when WB's rejected it the first time.
Fire In The Hole:
This song sounds like a cheesy rip-off of vintage Van Halen, with a weak hook that leaves you wishing for the original. Opening with some cheap sounding effects of twirling helicopters and leading into a tired, uninspired Eddie riff, Cherone gives us the same boring vocals that were his trademark during his Extreme years. Ed's guitar solo is simply more rehashed noodling. Gone are the days when Ed would bestow upon your ears a solo with gut-wrenching intensity, in which, only a young Ed knew how.
A Year To The Day:
This song is eight minutes long, which makes for a very tedious listen. The guitar work is repetitive and the song could have benefited from some editing. The opening mood is set with some classical guitar, but Cherone joins in and ruins everything. Mainly, the song is lacking in dynamics. As the guitar solo begins, you feel as though Ed is trying to recapture his early glory years, but he sounds more like one of those under-trained EVH clone guitarists. Gone is the synergy of Alex and Ed reaching levels of overload during past solos. This song never really goes anywhere and is lacking a climax. David Lee Roth where are you?
Song order of the new Van Halen album:
2) Without You
3) One I want
5) Dirty Water Dog
6) A Year to the Day
7) Fire in the Hole
8) From Afar
9) Ballot or the Bullet
10) That's Why I Love You
11) How Many Say I
- Arthur Hentrich, Music Web One.