David Lee Roth needs no introduction. He's one of the most famous frontmen in history and has sung on what are arguably Van Halen's best albums. He was made even more famous from the controversy surrounding his departure from that classic band, where he ostensibly left of his own accord due to aspirations involving solo music video production and film acting, but which has been placed under doubt mostly by Roth himself, who has claimed that he was forcibly kicked out.
All that stuff became fired up even more highly when Roth released his first post-Van Halen solo album "Eat 'Em and Smile." His first solo album was called "Crazy from the Heat," and was little better than a collection of lounge songs coupled with inventive and amusing music videos directed by Roth himself. However, in the wake of the Van-Halen split, Roth realized that his aspirations would not be met by performing show-tunes in spandex, and so he quickly proceeded to assemble a band of some of the most virtuosic players in rock. From the band Talas came bass lead virtuoso Billy Sheehan; from Maynard Ferguson's group came session drum whiz Greg Bissonette, who would later perform and record with Joe Satriani; and from Frank Zappa's band came Steve Vai. Roth's intent in amassing all this musical firepower was obvious: out-Van Halen Van Halen. Roth was always convinced that he was the source of the majority of the band's charisma and by placing even better musicians around him for him to work with, he ensured that success would boom.
And it did. "Eat 'Em and Smile" was an enormous hit and led to a sold-out tour that propelled many of these musicians, especially Vai and Sheehan, from cult status into the country's next generation of instrumental heroes that already threatened to totally eclipse the staggering innovations of Eddie Van Halen, which is no doubt one of many reasons that Roth's ego still allowed Vai and Sheehan to play utterly balls-to-the-wall throughout the album. Roth was never much of a singer, but then this isn't a very artistic project and the music is so damn good that it hardly matters what Roth is talking about. Fans of his upbeat, party-hearty squeals and yelps and the bands's amazing musicianship should love this outing: God knows lots of people did back when it was released.
1.) Yankee Rose
Opening with a hilarious "talking guitar" conversation between Roth and Steve Vai's guitar, Roth's cocky lyrics ("Are you ready for the new sensation"!") are perfectly supported by the doubled, funky rock riffs that Vai churns out with the most self-assured ease: for Vai, who had recorded insanely complex music with Zappa, this was no doubt a walk in the park for him, and it sounds like it as he wheedles through blistering fills and edgy, muscular riffs. There's a calm solo and a fantastic bridge with great walk-up bass from Sheehan, and hilarious monologues from Roth. Vai kicks out the jams with great riffing and soloing in the outro.
If Eddie Van Halen has any fear at all (and we know that he, like Roth, had an ego to wound in the '80s), it's songs like these that put it in him. Existing for little other purpose than to showcase the tremendous ability of Roth's new band, Vai, Sheehan and Bissonette all blast out insanely fast hard rock riffs at a beastly tempo, with doubled harmonic dives, whammy bar mayhem, tapping and fast picked double-tracked leads, and an incredible unison tapping solo between Vai's guitar and Sheehan's bass, not to mention agressive double bass drumming from Bissonette. Roth only heightens it to glam rock nirvana with his chorus shouts of "Shy Boy! Shy Boy!" and his mid-instrumental squeals and yells. Excellent.
3.) I'm Easy
The first of two of the lounge-jazz numbers on here, this is quite certainly filler, but it's got a lot of nice amusement value, as Vai goes through a decent blues solo and dusts off his Berklee jazz chord book to play over the song. Very short, but pretty pleasant as far as it goes and funny.
4.) Ladies' Nite in Buffalo"
This is probably one of the most interesting songs Roth ever had a hand in creating. Moving with a cool, cocky strut, supported with a great grooving drumbeat and bassline and very funky guitar from Vai. Roth's lyrics are quite excellent and his vocal lines and rhythms are highly engaging. The pre-chorus is a great lead-in to the chorus and the rest of the song. The band takes a pretty big backseat to the groove here. There's a pretty orgasmic interlude with great riffing and a lovely solo from Vai. Man, the little riffs the guitar has are so sweet, and the vocal line is just so cool. Great song.
5.) Goin' Crazy
Roth organizes a reprise of his career theme of "crazy from the heat" in the chorus of this song, which begins with a great staggered-rhythm guitar riff with very cool time signature changes, polyrhythms, and AWESOME '80s synths. The video for this is excellent and hilarious, featuring a lot of antics from Vai and Sheehan as they play each others instruments and dance around with funny faces and such. Needless to say, Vai's solo is great, featuring great unison lines and tapped harmonics from Sheehan's bass. The easily singable chorus is so good, it's too bad they don't make music like this anymore. :)
6.) Tobacco Road
A cover of an old blues song, this version is respectable enough, but Roth is no blues singer and Vai's not really a blues guitarist either. The instrumentless interludes with Roth's vocal harmonies is pure sweetness though, and overall it just sounds like the band is having fun aping the famous style of the song and showing up Van Halen. Vai's talking guitar makes another appearence here as it, incredibly, duplicates Roth's high-pitched screams perfectly and, at the end of the song, mutters "tobacco" at the far end of a whammy dive along with Roth.
7.) Elephant Gun
Hilarious, and chock full of great Van-Halen-aping riffs, this short song features great David Lee Roth vocal tones that conjure up later stuff that Axl Rose would do, and overall the tough, streetwise tone of this song fits a lot of the Guns aesthetic, surprisingly: a little bit cleaner instrumentation, but the band is clearly having a blast. Sheehan has a very impressive bass solo.
8.) Big Trouble
I always kind of found this song a little weird: it's kind of a more artistic tune with lots of pretty chords, a quintessential Vai song, but Roth always sounded a little funny singing over this to me. I like it, mostly because of the blistering Vai solo (featuring his mastery of the tapping technique). But to be honest, with the exception of the chorus, it doesn't much sound like a David Lee Roth song.
9.) Bump and Grind
Was there ever a better title for a rock song" This song features still more great jamming and ballsy riffs from the band, and excellent vocal stylings and rhythms. Roth is nothing if not fun, and with this kind of support he really shines. It's too bad this lineup didn't last. Vai sounds almost like he's using a whammy pedal in the solo, except whammy pedals didn't exist when this album was recorded...which means, yep, he's just being amazing as usual.
10.) That's Life
The last lounge number and the closer, I'm personally not much of a fan...there are silly keyboards and doo-wop vocals in the background, and a very silly horn section enters later. Roth apes Frank Sinatra or someone throughout this, and it's very silly, and almost pointless, but hey, it's David Lee Roth. What can you do" :)
Great album with a fantastic instrumental lineup, this accomplished Roth's goal of outdoing his former bandmates and then some. While short on songs and not quite on the level of compositional genius as a lot of Roth's Van Halen work, it's still well-worth picking up for fans of that era of Van Halen's career and especially for guitarists and instrumentalists in general...there's some jaw-dropping playing here.