Review Summary: Van Halen get their mojo back. Now if I only knew what mojo is wtf?
This album rocks my fun loving socks. After dragging us through the muck and mire of Fair Warning and giving us half an album of good and half an album of barley there on Women And Children First, Van Halen finally got back to what they did best. Being a loose, fun, cover song friendly rock n' roll band. What to do when you run out of ideas and run out of songs" Why just grab some good tunes from others and VH 'em up. And with Diver Down that's exactly what they did. Roy Orbison, Martha And The Vandellas, The Kinks" How you gonna miss with a trio like that!
Half the ten songs on this album are covers, and two instrumentals that are pretty damn good. But let's get to those covers. Roy Orbison's Oh Pretty Woman is reborn as a riff heavy, twangy wet dream. Dave doesn't sound like a guy after a woman out of his reach as Orbison did on the original recording, but rather like a man on the prowl and about to land the prize. This old, old oldie is completely reborn and given new life as a modern, sexy super ballad of sorts. And it was a super smash hit to boot. Martha And The Vandellas Dancing In The Street is a complete surprise coming from the speakers even today, and Van Halen make it their own, completely obscuring the original with a modern hard rock punch and danceable beat that is undeniable. Eddie is top notch on this tune from intro to end. And in a world way back when albums had "sides," this fun piece of sugar kicked off side two for fun, fun, fun. Something Van Halen forgot to have for at least an album and a half before Diver Down. And kicking off the album with a cover, something the band had done twice before, they chose a good one with the musical question "Where Have All The Good Times Gone"" Good one, guys! And good thing for listeners they answered the question right as the fun returned to this band for the next 11 tracks.
It is said all the covers were recorded for this album because Van Halen needed an album fast after releasing Pretty Woman just as a single to keep in the public eye. Just a little something for between albums. But the record company said "hey, looks like a smash! Maybe you can whip up an album to go with"" So the band looked back a little to some unreleased stuff from their "early" days, threw in a couple of new tunes, grabbed some more covers, and out came this gem of an album. 12 days in the studio, no time to think, no time to overthink, no time to write a batch of new tunes or figure how to follow up past successes or recent failures. Just get in there and kick ass and have fun. Diver Down is the very sound of a fun band having fun. What a fun album!
And the originals are just as well, here. The entire album is all killer, no....well, you know. Unlike the groups previous two albums which gave us some half baked tunes, questionable instrumentals, and what seemed like unfinished business when put next to the debut and second album, Diver Down is a complete, whole, and satisfying work. Originals like the explosive second track Hang 'em High with its insane, high energy guitar riff, and lovely mid tempo ballad Secrets are welcome returns to good rocking and good songwriting absent from the bands previous two efforts, and the well chosen cover tunes, all Van Halen'd out, blend in seamlessly.
And if you're still not convinced this album has the goods I dare you to listen to The Full Bug and deny it. It's not possible! Quite simply one of the best records Van Halen has ever recorded this song just blazes, all cylinders firing. It never lets up and does not let go. From its bluesy start to its riff roaring end, its like a ZZ Top song if ZZ Top had balls. Nothing special here, boys and girls. Just a rip roaring, R&B good time done Van Halen style. This song could be a cover of a jump and jive tune of years gone past. But it's not. It's modern, full bodied, and bold. And 100% fun.
Fun, something this album helped us remember Van Halen once was and would be again. Thankfully. Cover tunes, original tunes, old and new side by side and a unique hard rock band that made it not matter a bit. This is the sound of 100% Van Halen as they once were, and would be again. Something they forgot for a little while as they seemed a band in search of themselves. Diver Down is the sound of a band not thinking about it, and just getting on with it. And proving sometimes you can find just what you need when not looking too hard, and just letting it come to you.