Sides. That's when this record was made. Albums were thought of as works with two or four sides, seldom more, and on rare occasion three. Just had to deal with a lot of slick vinyl on the unused side. Or maybe you got a bonus cut or four to make up side four. But it was always made clear: that was not part of the "album" of songs. It was a separate side.
As albums with two sides go Fair Warning is an unbalanced slab of vinyl at best and absolutely disposable at it's lowest. This adds up to general mediocrity, and what seems a band stuck in second gear after downshifting to third for the previous Women And Children First. Van Halen avoided the sophomore slump with Van Halen II on account of good material that didn't make the debut album, and a few or more great new tunes. VH I and II were blistering, fun, and roucous listening experiences. But not so much WACF and Fair Warning.
Let's look at Side 1 of Fair Warning. Things get off to a promising start with Mean Street. It's got Eddie doing guitar tricks on the intro, but it settles into a too long 5:00 minute tune about gritty streets and boredom. Not real comvincing from the emerging "Diamond" Dave, and the mid tempo pace of the song eventually drags it down with the silly lyrics. A promising start? Well, yes. Why not give the benefit of the doubt. But you usually go forward at starting lines. And from this point on the album takes a few steps back.
Next we get the horrible Dirty Movies complete with a one minute time wasting intro. What is that? It's called filler, and not the sweet kind. However this you will be grateful for after Dave opens his mouth for the first time on this song. Lost innocence, the big screen, porn, strip clubs. This song is indeed about Dirty Movies, and is another mid tempo snooze fest which never rocks and never rolls. It just goes thud. It's as if Ted Templeman began a metronome in studio and the band decided to doodle over it as Roth spouts the most absurd lyrics imaginable. And that promising start just a song before goes straight to hell with the somewhat rockin' but not rolling Sinners Swing. Roth continues to hate women and the group sounds like a trying too hard VH cover band on this tune, and it could use some of what it's title suggest. A bit of real swing. But it's not to be.
Three songs into side one. and three to go. So some hope, right? Wrong. This is a four song side of mediocre songs with stupid lyrics. And's it's a long, long way from fun, sexy, helping you get laid, or making the girls excited. Maybe this is what Van Halen were going for? Can't imagine, or they simply missed the target. Badly.
Let's skip the fourth song of "side one" and go straight to Side Two. Just trust me, it got worse. I should note these aren't "epic" sides of albums, either. These are just simple hard rock tunes. It would help if they were anything more then completely disposable. As in completely unlistenable. Music needs to be heard. But I hear this album and wish I were deaf for its duration.
Side two. Wow, it starts strong as sides of music should. Unchained is everything nothing came before is. Fun, spirited, great guitar riff, and a band that sounds like it cares. Dave even comes through with decent lyrics of the "I am FREE" sort, and this is a song for just about anyone. So if side two can come through....hell some albums have just one GREAT side and all is well! So now it's time to rock 'n roll. But ha! Faked out again. After a fast start things bog down with the cool but thin sounding Push Comes To Shove that finds Dave once again questioning women in his life, and the band sounding boerd. The record wraps up with one of the best songs on the album where VH finally find thier pop music heart and wear it on their collective sleeve. But it's way too little far too late as the upbeat, sunny pop Of So This Is Love makes us long for the VH of I, II, and even WACF. However with only two more "songs" left on the album and each being two minutes of unlistenable filler you could poop out on your worst night with a guitar....well, this album is just all over. We listen to the four combined minutes of Sunday Afternoon In The Park and One Foot Out The Door and realize this is all the band had, it's all they brought and could muster. Seven so called songs, four of which are awful and the other three marginal at best. Nope, they couldn't even finish tight. Remember Ice Cream Man? Beautiful Girls? How about In A Simple Rhyme? But no Davescile here. No hot girls and bums in the sun or bells ringing or an angel sigh. It's just crud and bad melodies and spiteful lyrics and filler. Boo.
Well music fans, good thing this album is over 30 years old. Because it can take time to recover from a disaster. And recover VH did when on the next album they seemed to have gotten the memo. What memo? Well, the memo which read VH is a fun band, a party band, a band girls like because the band likes them, and they only want to have a good time and help heal a young lady's heartbreak. Yes Jamie is Cryin' and in the future may have a gun, but having her in the backseat is great, too. This is what VH was about, and it's what they found once again in the cover laden follow up to Fair Warning, Diver Down. That album sold twice as much as FW and all the singles were covers. Cover songs from a big rock star band like VH? You bet. But VH cover songs. Where they have no choice but to follow in the spirit of the original and play like wild all over it. Toss in some good original tunes that are fun, sexy, lady friendly, and rockin....and you get Van Halen at their best. If the band had told fans they were following up this *** album with an album of half covers, half originals, and it would set the stage for their biggest selling album of the Roth years, you'd have thought 'em crazy. But WACF and FW all but abandoned prominent cover songs and the band needed to find itself once again. And what better way then with the spirit of Marvin Gaye, Roy Orbison, and Ray Davies showing you what you left behind? No better way, I say. And so VH decided to Dance The Night Away once more.
But for one brief moment Van Halen was a freakin' mess without direction, a band on the brink of burnout. This is that moment. Two sides of absolute meh. Compare that to the two sides of 1984 and you will get the picture. It's like night and day. Don't like the pop inspired stuff? Don't matter as long as the girls dance, and the guys get a little lovin'. And that's a lesson VH forgot for a couple albums. Good thing for fans they remembered, or this slop may have been their last.