FIRST IMPRESSIONS Volume 44: Van Halen – 1984

FI 44: VH - 1984

FI 44: VH – 1984

Due to popular demand (one request) I’ve written a new First Impressions article before 2pm.

…And in case you were wondering, this is the forty-fourth entry of my blog series ‘First Impressions.’ In each entry of the series I write about discovering an influential or genre-classic album for the first time and then write about that experience in a semi-planned, semi-stream of consciousness manner that is less helpful than a traditional album-review, but which does contain more personal flavour.

I prefer my reviews to be serious and informative. ‘First Impressions’ allow for a more director’s commentary approach. I can be silly and talk bollox, or make points that only a handful of people will understand. Usually I will deliver insights into my history with similar music as well as into how my mind works and how both of these things change over time. You will have to either possess a fairly detailed understanding of Rock and Metal history and Subgenre conventions or have a second tab open at Wikipedia to fully follow every single point that I make, but don’t let that put you off…I’m not honestly expecting you to know every single riff or tone I’ll point out off by heart.

If you want your own First Impressions article done, just suggest it in the comments. I’ll give anything a shot. This one is about Van Halen’s ‘1984.’ But then you knew that already, didn’t you?

Before Easter I got a boxset of all the David Lee Roth era Van Halen albums. I’d been intrigued by them ever since I saw Freaks And Geeks and was on a classic rock sort of a bender, replaying all my Kiss and Heart and Zeppelin albums over and over and also belatedly getting into Deep Purple.

I’ve done a First Impressions article already about their debut, which will have all the other history with them covered. Since then, I’ve quite come to like the band, and their star-jumping, back-flipping, enthusiastic front man who looks like the stereotype so-cal surfer-dude but sounds like Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan when he does the 1950s impersonation that he does (eg. ‘Space Truckin’ or ‘Lucile’)

I’ve actually put off listening to 1984 purely because I knew there was a First Impressions in it, so while I’ve been listening to their first four albums relatively frequently (albeit mostly in shuffle form, as opposed to album order, which I’ve only done once or twice).

I’ve put off listening to Diver Down too, but for no apparent reason. I don’t even know why.

I do occasionally hear ‘Jump’ sneaking into my ears when walking to or from Uni with my phone shuffling tracks, and I never noticed all the good bits in it before I got the boxset. Y’know, ‘Ro-oo-oll with the punches’ or the drums in the back of the ‘got my back against the record machine’ bit.

The album opens up with ‘1984’ which reminds me of Dio era Sabbath intros. I expect Mob Rules or Neon Nights to kick in after about 10 seconds of this. It also reminds me of the soundtrack to Blade Runner.

Then comes mega-single ‘Jump,’ the song with the happiest hook I can think of right now. What’s weird is when you analyse it, you’ve got these Bonham-esque drums, a robot playing bass and what is quite clearly Peter Criss singing, and a really spacious mix. You could move two pianos in all that space. After listening to cramped mixes like Decapitated its kind of surprising to hear something you could swing a cat in.

Then there’s that guitar solo. And the proggy drum-confusion bit that follows. And the Dream Theater/Yes/Genesis sounding keyboard solo. Then there’s a version of the main bit that fades out with just a touch more guitar that makes it sound like the end of a teen film, like the end of the Breakfast Club where the tough-kid who laid the princess walks away all happy, and then just before its totally faded out the drums get heavier.

On first listen, years ago, I thought it was a really simple, stupid and un-rock song with nothing but a cheesy video to offer, and some years after that was surprised to find out they were guitar-driven enough to get their own Guitar Hero game. I suppose that’s what happens when you don’t listen to a whole song all the way through or only use one song to judge a whole career on.

Next up comes ‘Panama’ which for me is associated exclusively with the movie ‘Superbad’ and exists in no other context. Hmm. Listening to the intro it reminds me really of Judas Priest’s ‘Take These Chains’ ‘Heading Out On The Highway’ and ‘Private Property.’ There’s this recurring two-second Black Sabbath riff that comes in inappropriately before each chorus that’s really pleasing to the ear. Here, have a second of Metal. Also, what it really reminds me of during its chorus, its stomping, forward-momentum chorus, is Pantera’s ‘Proud To Be Loud,’ seriously, check them both out and see they work on the same logic.

The guitar solo reminds me of Saved By The Bell.

Then it goes all slow and sad and it reminds me of the same rain-soaked film-noir streets with alcoholic detectives that I’ve brought up in the AC/DC entry. I like when he says ‘Aint No Stoppin Nooooow’ and the ‘Now’ stretches between two distinct sections of music over a silence, my favourite trick in music. Imagine a deleted scene 2/3rds of the way through Brick where Brain drunkenly stumbles around puking outside and Irsih themed bar, lamenting the girl who got away. Or just remember the time Bunk ended up in the bath, but substituent the bath for an old fashioned anthill mob car.

Next is a love song, written about me and my struggles against Officer Dibble, ‘Top Jimmy.’ It has a weird mixture of ‘In My Time Of Dying’ sounding slide Guitar and ‘You Know You’re Right’ sounding harmonic flicking.

When it kicks in with a bustling quick drumbeat it sounds like Lynryd Skynyrd doing their playing-in-a-honeky-tonk-bar routine. Then this slow really metallic backing part while the exciting to the point of being daft guitar solo goes off. The mixture of everything is such a bizzare schizophrenic mess that should be confusing and weird but sounds seamless and smooth somehow. I remember it being said of Annihilator’s Jeff Waters that he’s the Eddie Van Halen of Thrash Metal, and I can see why. Using backwards logic, I can see how Eddie Van Halen is the Jeff Waters of Classic Rock.

[Side Note: I also like Tool’s ‘Jimmy’ and Green Day’s ‘St. Jimmy.’ Is it that there are no bad ‘Jimmy’ songs or am I biased?]

Next comes ‘Drop Dead Legs’ which opens with some clean-ish, yet distorted-ish arpeggios and it feels like it could kick into either ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ or ‘Knockin On Heaven’s Door’ at any moment. Some cowbells and stick clicks. Then it takes a sort of hard hitting on the drums AC/DC direction. The vocals sound like Gene Simmons at the end of sentences and Peter Criss at the starts of them. The guitar I don’t really understand. But then after the chorus, they do this cool thing briefly where they shlurp back up into themselves, doodlydoodlydoop- doodlydoodlydoop- doodlydoodlydoop. Then some guitar on its own. Then the verse again. At points it reminds me of ‘Women In Love.’

Then he goes kind of heavy, and it reminds me a bit of ZZ Top’s ‘Just Got Paid’ but the constant ride-bell sounds like some weird industrial Trent or Antichrist-era-Manson thing. The solo is working along some bizzare Steve Howe logic I cant follow.

Next up comes a bunch of double kicks, then what is essentially a drum solo, cymbals come in then it sounds like ‘Fireball’ by Deep Purple, then a guitar comes in doing some neoclassical stuff, then it all kicks off sounding almost Thrashy. Then, some dialogue. What do I think the Teacher’s going to look like? This song is a slippery shit too. I can’t get my brain-mits on it because it shifts tone so often. Its Heavy Metal one minute, 1950s sounding the next, its got a slight Jazzy tinge, then there’s the silly dialogue.

I remember seeing about six seconds of the music video at the age of about 15 and deciding I’d never like it. Teenagers are dicks. It’s a good song. And a lot of fun. Maybe Randy The Ram was right… why can’t we have a good time?

‘I’ll Wait’ opens up sounding remarkably like A-Broadsword era Jethro Tull. It must’ve sounded so futuristic at the time. I’m sat here expecting another ‘Flyingdale Flyer’ ‘Black Sunday’ or ‘The Clasp’ to come in and take over. Will it? Don’t disappoint me now Van Halen. It’s the sort of thing that should be in the soundtrack to one of those films like War Games or Short Circuit. That kind of Kids-meet-the-milatary-in-the-80s sort of film.

There’s a neat little touch where he puts extra little shnuffles into the hi-hat. The chorus is enjoyable 80s-fare. Then there’s a breakdown that’s a mixtue between spacey prog and lots of drum fills. Then it klerps back together again into a coherent slow rock part with cool and surprisingly straight forward guitar solos. (For him). Yeah. I like that song. Like a Banana with other Bananas beneath it, its Top-Banana.

‘Girl Gone Bad’ opens up with this threatening sounding and emotionally intense opener that sounds more like something 65 Days Of Static or Explosions In The Sky would do than they flashy cocks-out mess-but-not-rock of Van Halen so far. Then it kicks off into this like Diamond Head covering ‘The Song Remains The Same’ sort of feel. Its really powerful. The bends on the chorus are awesome. The whole guitar thing is very Jeff Waters and Dimebag… says backwards historian. This song is awesome. Some of the Fills are incredible. There’s this breakdown bit with solos, followed by this really cymbal-heavy bit with solos, that’s followed by this brilliant Chris Addler sounding bit, with solos. That dup-diddi-dup-dup thing sounds like Lamb Of God. This song is fucking awesome. Some of the ends of bits work along such a Jeff Waters logic though. Well, also a Steve Howe logic. It reminds me a bit of ‘Going For The One’ as played by Cowboys era Pantera. And the end is awesome, where he just plays the absolute fuck out of the drums.

The last song is called ‘House Of Pain’ which has lots of heavy, hard Metallic sounds. Then it goes into these bizzare, slow-double-kick drum solo sounding verses with weird cat-screech guitars. After two of those and two of the rock bits. It goes into a surprisingly emotional sounding bit, then the build up from Deep Purple’s ‘Fireball’ then into a fast bit with solos, that gets heavier and heavier as it goes along until it trips and falls over a cowbell into this southern rock boathouse. Some alligators swim around synchronized swimming style for the last 30 seconds and it fades out while the band are getting really energetic.

The next song kicks in and is surprisingly heavy. It builds up into this absolutely thrashing…oh wait. Its ‘Eternal Nightmare’ by Vio-lence. Because iTunes played on. And they’re the next artist. And I’d already said ‘House Of Pain’ was the last song.

Well. There we go. That was ‘1984’ by Van Halen. It was a bit different than I expected. I was picturing something a bit more poppy, and synth driven. I thought it was their version of a Black Album, where they tamed down their wild musicality and had a big production job and gained all the new fans with their stripped down, less-crazy version of their core sound.

Apparently not, its another chaotic, bonkers collection of really unique tracks that can’t be pigeonholed. It’s the classic rock equivalent of a Protest The Hero or Sikth. Its ahead of its time that’s for sure.

I enjoyed the three big singles, but the three songs that close out the album are even better. Its an enjoyable record. Its light-on-filler, filled with quality, and supremely unique and personality-having. I’m not sure there’s anything else quite like it.

By the way. ‘Seiral Killer’ by Vio-lence is a fun song. Check it out too. If you like that sort of pounding, Beneath The Remains style Thrash. Which you do.

Now that I’ve got your attention though; another post about Blabbermouth and Youtube comments section problems: ‘Poser’ – really? In 2013 we’re still lowering ourselves to call bands and fans ‘Posers’ ? I get that it was a uniting thing for people like Gary Holt to do back in the 80s when very heavy Metal subgenres were held in genuine disregard by so many. A) Those people are cooler than you and B) That time has passed.

You don’t need to prove your Metal-credentials by saying ‘Death-To-False-Metal’ all the time, by saying that bands are ‘posers’ or anything else. Bands are there. They’re just options. You can like any of them. There’s loads of different choices out there and you like what you like and try what you try. You can like Burzum AND Bullet For My Valentine, You can like Necrosadistic Goat Torture AND Steel Panter, and to be honest, all the bands like Slipknot, Five Finger Death Punch and Avenged Sevenfold might not be as heavy as Deicide, but neither are AC/DC, Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath and you all like them.

Why all the negativity and faction-forming? Why lash out at things you don’t like? You’ll probably end up liking them a few years from now anyway. You get a new friend or girlfriend who likes a band you hate and increased exposure to that band can change your mind. That band put a song in a film or game you like and you can change your mind. Why flap your e-mouth so hard spilling out all this hate for something as constantly-changing and subjective as personal taste?
Why try and take the enjoyment of something away from others just because you aren’t getting it yet?

Why ironically pose as so metal, so true, so kvlt and then decry all the “poser bands.” Can’t you all have a bit more self-awareness and team-spirit? After all, you are probably going to end up drunk and singing along to either ‘The Final Countdown’ ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ or ‘In Too Deep’ anyway.

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