Graded on a Curve:
Van Halen,
5150

This review does not end well. And how could it? Van Halen replaced David Lee Roth with a radish!

The result? One of the most demoralizing drop-offs in album quality in rock history. 1984 was a party, and even a hardcore guy like me got an invite. Follow-up 5150 was a staid and joyless affair, and heavily laden with the kinds of straight-faced AOR pop-shlock moves Roth wouldn’t have been caught dead singing. From “Jump” to “Love Walks In” is a quantum leap into a rancid vat of suck.

Say what you will about Diamond Dave, call him a buffoon or a bimbo, there’s no denying he’s a great American original. Sammy Hagar, on the other hand, is Everyman, and with him up front Van Hagar became Everyband–just another hard rock crew with crossover ambitions and an insurmountable anonymity problem. Talk about your Red Menaces–substitute the Red Rocker for Roth and what you have in 5150 is an album with all the charm of East Germany–it’s songs vary from dystopian drab to totalitarian gray.

5150 has literally nothing to recommend it aside from the guitar pyrotechnics of Mr. Valerie Bertinelli–with the exception of “Get Up,” even the hard rockers lack bite and pizzazz. There isn’t a “Jump” in the bunch. Hell, there isn’t a “Top Jimmy” in the bunch. Take away Diamond Dave, and Van Halen becomes one very generic proposition–think Survivor with better guitar solos.

5150’s three grace notes–and they’re minor ones for sure–are as follows:

1) The aforementioned “Get Up” lives up to its title, and provides 5150’s only truly exciting moments–best to climb in your bathtub as brother Alex VH kicks up a ruckus and Eddie does his best imitation of a tornado hitting a trailer park.

2) LP opener “Good Enough” sounds like a song that wasn’t quite good enough to make it on to 1984, which is a compliment of sorts–I’ll take a Class of ‘84 flunkee over any of the graduates in the Class of 5150.

3) LP closer “Inside” is a gas–an out-of-kilter blend of Funkadelic and Led Zeppelin’s “The Crunge” on which everybody piles in on vocals. Everybody seems to be having fun, but at the same time the levity sounds… forced.

The LPs three remaining rockers (”Summer Nights,” “Best of Both Worlds” and the title track) are uniformly nondescript. The remaining songs are something worse–namely vapid. Shlocky power ballad “Love Walks In” is a career nadir for the band–it sounds like it was written by Journey for Jennifer Warnes. Nauseate me once shame on you, nauseate me twice and you risking my eternal hatred, and that’s just what Van Halen does on the bathetic “Dreams,” which falls neatly into the category of uplifting treacle. “Why Can’t This Be Love” is at least catchy, but Sammy’s meaty vocals are ill-fitted to the appointed task–he comes off like a drunken frat boy who’s commandeered a Karaoke machine.

Here’s the strange thing about 5150; not only does it lack Diamond Dave’s oversized personality–the songs blow. Which tells me something, namely that Eddie Van Halen the songwriter needed Diamond Dave’s jumpin’ and jivin’ insanity as a goad. Roth wasn’t simply the perpetually mugging face of Van Halen. He was Eddie’s rudder, and without him the mighty Van Halen steered permanently off course.

To put it another way, Roth was Eddie’s muse. I defy anyone to listen to the utterly insipid “Dreams” and tell me this isn’t true. With Roth gone, Eddie was lost–an artist without a palette, a guitar solo in search of a song.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
D+

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