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van halen: a different kind of review
ranking the tracks from super incredibly awesome to not as awesome
by joe procopio (@jproco)

Very quickly. This is not Van Hagar. There is no Love Walks In. If you had been waiting for that to happen, it is safe to buy this album and you totally should.

There. I just gave you the sum total of every navel-gazing "where-does-this-fit-in-the-history-of-Van-Halen" review I've read about this album. No one cares about the feud anymore. It's been too long. I wish Sammy and Michael the best, even though I never really cared for the direction, especially after the first three songs on OU812.

And I won't say anything bad about Van Halen III except that the only song I can remember from the era is that irritating ballad "More Than Words."

Done. Now, let's talk about this record.

It's brilliant.

Suggestion: Feel free to listen along with the trial versions from Amazon here.

1. You and Your Blues
So edgy but dripping with the sunshine Southern California vocals that always kept Van Halen from being pigeonholed as a metal band. It's a blend of 1985 riff and 2012 arrangement, and I even hear changes on this song (also a bit on Chinatown) that I've never heard from Van Halen. Plus the lyrics are exactly what Bono was trying to do during his American Rattle and Hum phase.

Now, I've read a couple reviews that note that this should have been the single and I'm not sure I agree. While the song is great, it's just not as catchy and memorable as Tattoo. Had Roth Van Halen made a record in, oh, the last 25 years, this would have been the single from that record.

Plus that "Woman!" at the beginning of the chorus is the most testosterone-fueled utterance in rock in the last 25 years. Thank you, Diamond Dave.

2. Stay Frosty
Old. School.

Yes, this is Ice Cream Man 2012 but it's so much more. Roth is lyrically on fire on this song, in terms of the subject matter, the words he chooses, and how he spits them. Eddie is crushing the acoustic and the electric on the same song like only he can do.

The more I listen to this song, the more it inches up into a 1A kind of position on this list. I also see myself using this phrase non-stop through the spring and summer, so let me apologize for that in advance.

3. As Is
Underrated. The opening makes me ask when Phil Collins started playing drums for Van Halen. But 39 seconds in, this one definitely becomes the most technically spectacular song on the record, with Eddie, Alex, and Dave showing off chops and giving chills. It's not pyrotechnics, but tiger tight. The fade-out is also a nice touch.

4. Blood and Fire
This is the most well-constructed song on the album and will probably sound the best coming from your car speakers with the windows down as it progresses from a four-minute-party in and out of a stadium-shoutable chorus. The solo? Pure pyrotechnics, but the kind that can totally be forgiven when inserted into a great song.

5. Tattoo
I can see why this was the single. My kids love this song.

6. China Town
OK. I honestly can't decide if I love or hate this song, so I'm putting it smack in the middle. It's got a lot of parts to love, from the sick opening, to the speed-rock verse, to the pretty pre-chorus, to the ominous chorus and another pyro-solo. But it's like they were all superglued together.

7. Beats Workin'
A big behemoth classic of a song that is also technically astute with plenty of those little goosebump-inducing moments between takes on a heavy monster riff. Honestly, those moments are probably the biggest reason why I love this band, and I took the time to learn as many of them as I could. They're straight fun. But, in this case, take them out and this probably isn't a great song.

8. Big River
Unlike the previous, this is a solid song that never surprises, but it's got a slower and heavier tempo that provides Eddie the space to crank out the most ridiculously fantastic solo on the album.

And while we're on that point. It's Eddie Van Halen, every solo is worth listening to.

9. The Trouble with Never
Spectacular riffing and tightly constructed with sunny choruses that never rises above an average song.

And for the last time, didn't Rush's awful "Roll the Bones" hammer home the lesson that middle-aged white guys should never, ever break for a rap.

10. She's the Woman
The riff is great, but it wears quickly, like after three listens. All the good stuff is saved for the solo/bridge, which is spectacular, but the rest of the song is like an assembly line.

I imagine Ron Burgundy would love this song.

11. Outta Space
Meh. Filler alert. Party background music or good for a chase scene in a movie.

12. Bullethead
Throwaway two-minute punk rip-off that they do every once in a while.

13. Honeybabysweetiedoll
Not every song can be a winner. Let's just hope this is as close as they ever get to rap metal, which isn't very close at all.

There it is. Buy the album, skip Honeybabysweetiedoll and you have the best rock record since Wasting Light. But remember, Van Halen aren't here to save rock. They've done their time. It'll just be nice to see them fill arenas this spring and summer and not have everyone walk out when they play stuff off the new record.


Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.

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tracey kelley
3.2.12 @ 4:40p

"I also see myself using this phrase non-stop through the spring and summer, so let me apologize for that in advance."


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