Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Van Halen - 5150

My first review of a 1986 album starts with the first Van Halen to feature Sammy Hagar. You probably know the background so I will keep it brief. After six albums and a huge amount of success, Diamond David Lee Roth and Van Halen called it quits in 1985. Sammy Hagar was hired as the new singer. Hagar had previously played with Neil Schon, Ronnie Montrose as well as playing solo. The new band quickly set about writing and recording a new album. Very little was said prior to it's release other than some hints that Eddie wanted to include more keyboards. It was highly anticipated and it came out early in 1986.

Initial reaction:
I must say that I am a huge fan of Roth era Van Halen so I was devastated by Diamond Dave being out of the band. No offense to Sammy Hagar, but I was skeptical about what the music would be like. Not because it was Hagar as much as the fact that it wasn't Dave. One of my friends rushed and bought it and I got to hear it shortly thereafter. My first reaction was that although not devastated, I just couldn't believe that the magic of old Van Halen was gone. It wasn't that 5150 was awful, but it was very bland commercial hard rock. That was my first re-action and it lasted for years. Around 1998 I bought it on album at a Goodwill store for fifty cents and I listened to it then and I liked it more. It was stronger than I remembered, but not even close to Diver Down which is far and away the weakest album with Dave. The last time listened to all of 5150 was maybe in 2002 so it has been a few years so now it's time to pull out the album and see what we have.

*Note- When I do my reviews of 20 year old albums I listen to the songs and I try to pretend that I have never heard them before. So in my reactions, I just describe what I hear while trying to refrain from any comparison to any work the artist has done before or after. I want to be objective, but I did have to make one slip about Alex Van Halen because it was something I noticed here for the first time and I needed to say it. I allow myself to do comparisons in all other parts of the review.

The songs
1.Good Enough
The album starts off with a very straight ahead rock song with sharp production. Sammy Hagar sounds like he is trying maybe a little too hard at times. Overall a solid song and not a bad way to begin an album.
2. Why Can't This Be Love
So already we are into a "very radio friendly" song as I believe the term was back then. The vocals are actually pretty strong and the music is even, but not overpowering.
3. Get Up
This one comes flying on fairly fast, but the vocals seem to be very much in front of the music. After it's over, I tend to have problems remembering much about how the music went.
4. Dreams
Lots of slow keyboards start this song off and they stick around as well. There is a very good solo here, maybe the best one so far.
5. Summer Nights
Starts with a lot of guitar squeals and it certainly helps pick up the pace a little from some of the previous songs. Then it settles into a nice, solid beat. More than half through we get some heavy rhythms help really keep this song alive. Overall this song is a little uneven in style, but that's good as it works here. Definitely the best song so far.
6. Best Of Both Worlds
This song has a very a strong beginning, but quickly the music becomes very subtle and the vocals are again above everything else. It's a very simple song and has some energy, but nothing special.
7. Love Walks In
Keyboards kick this one off and it quickly become very repetitive. The song tends to get a little tedious maybe just two minutes into it. This is probably the point where it begins to really feel like the band tried to do an album of half rock songs and half radio friendly material and then they tried to alternate between the two.
8. '5150'
This song comes on and right away it's just nothing special. It's just a song I won't remember after he album is over. The drum track sounds like the one from at least three previous songs and that's a shame because Alex is capable of so much more.
9. Inside
Eddie and his guitar seem to take a back seat here as we get a lot of big drums and a pumping bass line in the foreground. The chorus is very much the centerpiece of the song. It's not the best, but actually more interesting than half of the album because of this approach.

Final Word-Okay, so 5150 is better than I thought it was 1986, but perhaps not for the reasons I would have liked. It has strong production values and it flows well, but it doesn't exactly rock much and very little is left of the earlier Van Halen sound. It was almost a bit too sharp around the edges for me. I think this bothered me because this band had always been so much about the music, but now the music seemed so sharp and fluid yet it just lacked a lot of feeling and energy that was so much apart of the previous six albums. I knew these guys were in their 30's, but when this album came out they all of a sudden started to seem like older guys to me. With Dave it was always liked the band seemed like they were in the prime of their lives, but here songs like Summer nights and Love Walks in makes them sound like guys looking back on events and like they are past their prime. At least now I can accept the sound changes but I don't have to completely like them. I may pull this out every once in a while to play, but it is almost like a different band from the one with David Lee Roth.

Next month I will have another review of a 1986 album. I am not sure yet what it will be, but right now I am leaning towards Ozzy's The Ultimate Sin.


Blogger Rocky said...

Hey, cool blog idea. Nice Van Halen post.
Here's a good Van Halen story for you: About 2 or 3 years ago, I'm in Subway and they have Van Halen's "Right Now" playing on the radio. The lady making my sandwich was digging the song and says "I just love Van Halen, and that Sammy Hagar." I said "They were really great when David Lee Roth was the lead singer." Then she says "Who is David Lee Roth."
Man, I felt old.

3:32 PM  
Blogger Metal Mark said...

I certainly believe that story. Unfortunately it could have happened a long time before just a few years ago. Dave was forgotten pretty quickly as the band moved on without him. It didn't help that all of Dave's solo albums after Skycraper bombed either

3:57 PM  
Blogger HMT said...

from one metal master to the other, good on ya for this blog.. keep it up.

I also write metal reviews at www.globaldomination.se under the name "syrrok"


8:03 AM  
Blogger Jenn Doll said...

HMT beat me to a comment and I JUST barely told him about you like seconds after you left me a comment. Sheesh.

Well, I just skimmed your blog and like I told my metal man HMT, I think I found a new blog buddy!


8:08 AM  
Blogger David Amulet said...

From what I recall, the big question of the time wasn't how good or bad the Van Hagar album was. Instead, our teenage attention was focused on how good or bad it was compared to David Lee Roth's first album-length solo release!

I recall thinking, when both were out, that I liked DLR's better because of the amazing guitar and bass help he recruited, but recognizing that Van Halen's was less flashy and probably would hold up better over time.

Time, methinks, has proved me right. I enjoy Eat 'Em and Smile even today, but apart from a few songs it sounds like a lot of filler--no small task for a short album. 5150's peaks don't reach as high but its valleys don't sink as low.

Good review, you captured the album well. I like "Get Up" and "5150" more than you, but I think I may despise "Love Walks In" more than you, too.

-- david

10:02 AM  
Blogger Metal Mark said...

hmt-Welcome and I will check out your reviews.

jenn-Welcome and I found your blog through reading David Amulet's blog.

David- That was the big question and VH vs. DLR was the cover story of a lot of the metal mags during the year. I will likely review Eat 'em smile in the summer. I think 5150 may be more memorable, but Eat 'em and smile is a bit more fun. I think both albums were rushed. I actually like Skyscraper a lot more than Eat 'em and smile because Steve Vai got to write quite a bit more and he is just an amazing player.
I thought OU812 was terrible, but the last two with Sammy were both pretty good.

11:09 AM  
Blogger David Amulet said...

I remember reading somewhere that Billy Sheehan was pissed off at the mixing of Skyscraper, which pushed his bass playing largely to the background. I like both of these DLR albums for the same reasons you do--they are, simply, fun.

-- david

4:43 PM  
Blogger Ben Heller said...

Great review Mark.

12:14 AM  
Blogger Phantasmak said...

I'd never been into Van Halen much; I only like specific songs, not albums as a whole. However I haven't listened all of the tracks on this one. I like Sammy Hagar's voice more than DLR's and I'll give it a go if I had the chance.

In case you haven't made up your mind as to the remaining 11 albums you're going to review, I would suggest Sabbath's "Seventh Star" for one of the upcoming months. I might post one myself, but from what I read, you're a bit older than me and you probably remember the time it first came out. It's an album rare to find these days and I've only listened to it very recently.

8:17 AM  
Blogger Metal Mark said...

I do indeed remember when Sabbath's Seventh Star came out. I think that I still have it one tape somewhere. It was decent, but one of the stories surrounding it was did Tony Iommi have the right to call that band Black Sabbath considering it was just him and a hired band. I remember the album being decent largely due to the vocals of Glenn Hughes. The tour for that album didn't go well as Glenn Hughes got hurt and then was kicked out of the band. The band had trouble selling tickets as they were trying to play arenas. I also remember they kicked Anthrax off of the tour at some point and continued with just WASP as the opening act. The other story was the comparisons between this album and Ozzy's the Ultimate Sin. Of course Ozzy's album and tour were huge and Sabbath struggled.

8:38 AM  
Blogger Strutter71 said...

The thing I remember most about this era was that everybody had to pick a side...you were either pro-Dave or pro-Halen, there was no middle ground. I thought the Van Hagar stuff was better than Dave's solo material, but the original VH was always better than them both.

5:27 AM  
Blogger UnHoly Diver said...

I agree, strutter. The DLR Van Halen was a hell of a lot better, IMO. I remember when I heard the first album(yes, album) for the first time. I was amazed at the sound they put out.

7:19 PM  
Blogger UnHoly Diver said...

BTW, Mark...just found you through Fantastic Alice's blog. Excellent idea for a blog.

7:21 PM  
Blogger Metal Mark said...

Strutter- 1986 was somewhat of a year of metal feuds as there was Van Halen vs. DLR, Ozzy vs. Black Sabbath and Metallica vs. Megadeth.

Bruce- Thanks and welcome.

6:26 AM  
Blogger The Zombieslayer said...

I thought with Hagar, they went a commercial direction. Note that the Hagar albums sold better according to the charts, but most true VH fans seem to like the David Lee Roth days better.

4:33 PM  

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