Review Summary: Diver Down is a bit of an underrated album for Van Halen, but it still makes up for a very interesting and entertaining listen.
1981 was a year of change for Van Halen's musical direction. Their fourth studio album, Fair Warning
, marked a change in their style. It was more of a dark and gritty album, for sure, almost abandoning completely the party style of the band's previous albums. Eddie's desire to explore new directions, musically, clashed with Dave's wish to maintain Van Halen's party band status. The increasing tensions between the members of the band led to a very special release for the band in Fair Warning
. It was more raw and aggressive than anything the band had ever done before. After some mixed commercial and critical reception, the band came to the conclusion that they had to lighten things up a little bit for their next release, after such an intense and aggressive album. After coming to that conclusion, came Diver Down
, definitely quite a controversial album for Van Halen, but ultimately a very special one too.
is made up of 12 songs. Out of those 12 songs, 5 of them are covers and 3 of them are introductory tracks. That's what makes this album such a controversial release in Van Halen's career. However, Diver Down
isn't a bad album at all, it's actually a very interesting output that contains a lot of great highlights and only suffers from some lack of consistency and lack of original material. What's great about Diver Down
is that it recaptures the band's feelgood sound that went somewhat absent in Fair Warning
. As interesting as it would've been to see how the band could improve upon Fair Warning
's very strong ideas, it was just as nice to see how they got back to their party sound, so characteristic of their first two albums, in Diver Down
It's true that Diver Down
is a bit of an underrated album for Van Halen and it sometimes receives a lot more hate among fans than it deserved, but it's by no means an album without flaws. It starts off with a great opener, Kinks' cover of Where Have All The Good Times Gone!
, that shows Van Halen going back to their more laidback and sleazy sound. Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony stand out the most, putting out a great performance, and Dave gives a fine vocal delivery, while Eddie chooses to act as more of a rhythm player. The song contains a nice hook and is one of Diver Down
's highlights. Another great highlight is Little Guitars
. After an awesome flamenco-style intro, Little Guitars
develops into an amazing track, that contains several memorable and catchy moments (some great hooks and Eddie's sweet guitar work, for instance), resembling Van Halen's earlier material quite well. Unfortunately, despite these highlights, the album seems to lack in consistency and it sometimes doesn't live up to its potential.
Hang 'Em High
, for instance, is a track that gets very repetitive after a while and definitely doesn't sound as good or interesting as other tracks in Diver Down
, that serves as an introductory track to Roy Orbison's cover of (Oh) Pretty Woman
, is a very strange track that contains a strong use of synthesizers, and while it does sound minimally interesting, it comes out as more of a filler track. The same can't be said about Cathedral
, though. A short instrumental that comes before Secrets
, it's a very special track. Most people think Eddie's playing an organ on this one, but he's actually playing a guitar, using a lot of delay to make its sound similar to a church organ's. It's not an instrumental as wacky and crazy as Eruption
and Spanish Fly
, but it shows a very innovative use of a guitar and it's a great interlude to Secrets
, that also stands out as a very nice track. It's a very calm number, that differs from anything they had ever done before, featuring some amazing instrumentation and great lyrics penned by Dave.
Most of Diver Down
's tracks see Van Halen experimenting with their sound, in a way they hadn't before, and the final result is almost always great. The Full Bug
, for instance, features a use of Dave's harmonica, an instrument that hadn't been used by them before. It features a nice hook, but the song's not very special. Big Bad Bill
features a special guest in Jan Van Halen, Alex and Eddie's father, playing a clarinet. It's a very interesting and entertaining song, that seems pulled out of the 1940's. Dancing In The Street
is a return to Van Halen's bar days, featuring Eddie's wacky and groovy guitar riff and a standout performance by Dave. Lastly, there's the hilarious closer Happy Trails
, that shows all four members of the band solely singing an old commercial jingle. It's a very funny closer, and not meant to be taken seriously in any way.
From an overall point of view, Diver Down
remains a bit of an underrated and misunderstood album. Sure, it's not an album as good as Van Halen's previous outputs, but it is certainly an interesting enough effort by a band who was quickly becoming one of rock's biggest bands in the 1980's. It receives more hate among fans and critics than it deserves, probably due to the lack of original material, but it's certainly an interesting album to listen to all the way through. Even having been a commercial success, fueled by the hit single (Oh) Pretty Woman
, the band didn't seem totally satisfied with the final product. So, they took some time off after touring. That's when Eddie built his own studio in his backyard and wrote a lof of material for Van Halen's next album, 1984