Review Summary: If it ain't broke, don't fix it!
1978 saw the release of Van Halen’s eponymous debut, in which guitarist Eddie Van Halen set a new standard of electric guitar playing. Following the album’s success, the band's first thoughts about writing the follow up must have been something along the lines of “how do we follow that?”. Upon listening to Van Halen II it appears the answer was simply stick to the same formula, which is in no way a bad thing as in terms of the quality of hard rock on display, this isn’t far behind the bands classic debut.
The album opens with a cover of You’re No Good, originally recorded by Betty Everett (written by Clint Ballard); this is the albums only cover version unlike the band’s previous album, which featured two cover versions, (the band’s take on The Kinks’ classic You Really Got Me being particularly effective). Van Halen II boasts it’s fair share of typical Van Halen party anthems, not least the Top 20 hit Dance The Night Away, which is as catchy as anything on their debut. The pop mentalities of the aforementioned hit are complemented by faster paced tracks such as the brilliant Somebody Get Me Doctor, which sees the albums first example of Eddie’s rip-roaring riffs that were so prominent on the band’s debut. The guitarist’s virtuoso performance is one that continues throughout the album’s remaining tracks and the only thing stopping Eddie from ‘steeling the show’ entirely is front man David Lee Roth, who manages to portray his egomaniacal personality through his vocal performance. Roth is at his cocksure best in songs such as Bottoms Up, which is one of the album’s many highlights.
The album's only instrumental comes in the form of the dazzling Spanish Fly, in which Eddie Van Halen excels in what was at that point his only recorded document of acoustic guitar playing. Sandwiched between two rockers, Light Up The Sky and D.O.A, this little instrumental provides some welcome variety to an album that mainly sticks to the blueprint of Van Halen I.
Lacking in variety it may be (bar the aforementioned instrumental) but this really doesn’t matter when the songs are at such a high standard and the band is in such fine, confident form. Eddies guitar playing is just as startling as it was when the band first emerged in the late 70’s and David Lee Roth puts in a fine vocal performance. Also impressive, is the ease of which the band seem to knock out songs as memorable as Outta Love Again and Beautiful Girls, the latter being another one of the album’s standout tracks, with an instantly recognisable opening riff making it equally as catchy as Dance The Night Away.
Van Halen II might not be such an instant classic as their debut but it stands alone as a brilliant hard rock album that boasts excellent musicianship and song writing making it an essential purchase for any self-respecting rock fan.