David Lee Roth: Diamond Dave

Heavy on chutzpah, light on substance, Van Halen’s former Mr Personality offers plenty of pizazz, a surfeit of eyes ’n’ teeth, but little in the way of originality.

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LET’S PLAY FANTASY STAG NIGHT. THE proposed location is Las Vegas, so who better than David Lee Roth to organise the tequila, tunes and strippers? You wouldn’t want his Van Halen successor Sammy Hagar in charge, dully banging on about his ‘Trans Am’. Nor would you want Hagar’s successor, ex-Extreme warbler Gary Cherone, calling the shots; he’d probably end up serenading waitresses with that limp-as-lettuce Extreme ballad ‘More Than Words.’

The point, for anyone wondering where that little exercise is taking things, is that Dave Lee Roth is still the man to put a tiger in your tank, a fun-lovin’, skirt-chasin’ diamond without whom Van Halen were largely pizazz-less. Some quality time with Dave, you would be inclined to think, and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke would be transformed into a happy-go-lucky fella crooning about ladeez rather than paranoid androids. It’s no great shock, then, that Roth’s seventh solo album (that’s counting Crazy From The Heat) is another party hearty record. What is surprising, however, is that it contains just three new Dave compositions. One of these, Act One, is only a minute and half long, and finds Roth clowning with an African drum before dissolving into stoned-sounding laughter.

Another, Medicine Man, is shorter still, and has Dave on scuzzy blues harmonica and vocal. It’s really only ‘Thug Pop’, a sure-fire rocker with creamy soloing from Dave’s current guitar-forhire Brian Young that constitutes a proper bit of DLR writing.

So what has Diamond Dave been doing since 1998’s ‘Dave Lee Roth Band’ album, sunning his abs and pecs? There was, of course, that stopstart stuff about him possibly rejoining Van Halen, but even with that he should have had time to knock off some new songs. You will have maybe surmised that the other 11 tracks on ‘Diamond Dave’ are cover versions.

Indeed, on John Brim’s _Ice Cream Man _– here Edgar Winter plays saxophone and Nile Rodgers (Chic, Bowie, Madonna et al) plays guitar – Roth has given the big-band treatment to a song he first recorded for 1978’s Van Halen I. There’s also a decent version of Jimi Hendrix’s If 6 Was 9, on which Dave sometimes drops to rich spokenword, à la his Skyscraper, while You Got The Blues, Not Me (such a Roth sentiment) is a bold, taut and sparky opener.

The album’s strongest track, though, is the one scheduled to be the first single. Dave’s cover of Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma (understandably, perhaps, Roth has renamed it Shoo Bop), a popfunk tune written by Steve Miller, should charm anyone who’s ever shaken their booty to Zeppelin’s The Crunge. Less wisely, Roth’s perfunctory take on the Fab Four’s Tomorrow Never Knows has been re-titled That Beatles Song. Can’t see Yoko Ono being happy about that decision, Dave. Especially as it’s a John Lennon song.

All told, Roth’s chutzpah and infectious joie de vivre make Diamond Dave an entertaining listen, but ultimately this is the sound of a great, great front man trading on past glories. He still sounds like he’s hot for teacher all right, but his report card should read something like: David is a confident, gifted boy and an excellent mixer. Diamond Dave, however, is not his best work. Could try harder.