Review Summary: Good, but easily the weakest Sammy Hagar-era album.
Van Halen had just come off from their first album, with their new vocalist, Sammy Hagar, 5150. Following its success, they went back in the studio for round 2. OU812 shows the potential that the band have instrumentally, but ultimately, as a whole, it just doesn't click for me.
(Also, for the record, I am not exclusively a Dave fan or a Sammy fan. I love both eras of Van Halen for their own, seperate strengths.)
The record starts out promisingly with a strange electronica-based intro to "Mine All Mine". The song develops into a catchy rocker with some great guitar-work by Eddie. The album immediately switches gears into the power ballad "When it's Love". It starts out with a majestic piano/synth intro before the heavier verse. The song goes softer in the chorus, as it does in 5150's "Love Walks In". The rest of the song doesn't really live up to the intro, but it's a solid ballad. But, when I listen to both these songs (and the whole record, for that matter), I feel like they could have been so much better.
There are a lot of nice ideas on the album, but some don't really work as well as they should. The blues cover tune, "A Apolitical Blues", originally by Little Feat, just doesn't work, and closes the album weakly. Other songs, like the acoustic rocker "Finish What Ya Started" or the synth/organ-led "Feels So Good" are far better songs, but they just feel underwhelming when it's all over. "Cabo Wabo" is a 7-minute rocker which gets very repetitive and starts losing me at about the 5th. minute. "Black and Blue" and "Sucker in a 3 Piece" are rock songs which showcase Eddie's guitar skills, especially in the latter, which contains my favorite guitar solo on the record. But that said, neither song contains that sexy magic found in other Van Halen/Hagar releases. As for the other two songs? Nice fast songs, but at the end of the day, they are, shall we say, filler.
I believe the biggest reason for me not being able to connect with the album are the lyrics. Most of the lyrics revolve around Sammy's favorite subject. Take a guess. It starts with an "S" and ends with an "X". There's an "E" somewhere in the word too. Songs about sex aren't always a bad thing if they are handled properly. David Lee Roth sang about sex all the time, but he did it with style
. Sammy Hagar lacks that ability and instead comes off as a teenager who's life value is determined by how many hot chicks he banged. "Black and Blue" is the worst offender featuring lyrics such as:
"Ooh, slip n' slide, push it in, uh!
A-Bitch sure got the rhythm
Holdin' back, yeah I got control
Oh, hooked inta her system"
Really, Hagar? In all honesty, those lyrics makes the song somewhat hard to listen to. Other songs with cheap sex lyrics include "Finish What Ya Started", "Sucker in a 3 Piece", "A.F.U. (Naturally Wired)," etc, etc.
When Hagar does manage to find something else to write about, it doesn't really work either. "When it's Love" sounds like something Celine Dion would write. "Cabo Wabo" is nothing more than an advertisement for Hagar's Mexican resort. The only song demonstrating any real inspiration is the opener "Mine All Mine", in which the listeners are encouraged to follow their own beliefs, not beliefs others have pushed on them.
Instrumentally, the album is pretty good. Alex went back to using a real drum-set after using a drum machine in 5150. He does well, but not too much exceptional. Eddie pulls off some great riffs and solos, but hey, it's Eddie, what can you expect. Sammy has improved since 5150; he still screeches, but it's not quite as annoying. He wouldn't go on to reach his full potential until Balance. The bass is pretty much inaudible. (I seem to have a thing with reviewing albums with inaudible bass)
Overall, this is a fun listen. You don't need to avoid this release, but when you get it, don't expect anything amazing. The songs are good, but only just. The album is good, but only just.
Mine All Mine
When it's Love
Finish What Ya Started