Having blown so many away with his 2021 solo debut Mammoth WVH, Wolfgang Van Halen is poised to do it again with this one. Recording in his late father’s 5150 Studio once again, he was accompanied only by the technical crew, led by his friend Michael ‘Elvis’ Baskette as producer, the man he first recorded with in 2014, working on the second Tremonti album.
Imagine how difficult it is to do this all on your own – having no one else to come up with a great riff or a clever lyric, play keyboards or drums or deliver the odd brooding bass line. Imagine what skill it took to build up this record layer by layer. Even polymaths such as Mike Oldfield, Pete Townshend and Todd Rundgren got others to chip in.
Dave Grohl (on the first Foo Fighters album) was an exception – and his direct inspiration remains audible. Parts of the 10 tracks here also sound like Alter Bridge. That much, at least, is familiar from the Mammoth WVH debut – but II has a lot more going on. Opener Right? uses a riff Jimmy Page failed to stumble upon while recording Presence; Like A Pastime bounces between a whooping little riff and a kaleidoscope of brilliant drumming; Another Celebration At The End Of The World is a get-the-party-started rocker; Miles Above Me is supercharged power-pop… And all this in the first four numbers.
The music Wolfgang first wowed us with has evolved into something not just higher tech but also more melodic. Even the dark bass tones and off-kilter time signature of Optimist caress the ear. Erase Me rattles along like a train but is powered by a pop engine. The gentle and intimate tones of Waiting may sit late in the running order, but the song could be a hit for anyone smart enough to cover it
Given Wolfgang’s surname it’s difficult not to notice the astonishing guitar solo on Take A Bow, but mainly the song is broody and elegant. Likewise, while the opening hook of I’m Alright will ignite any stadium, the song is nothing like anything EVH recorded.
Ultimately, Mammoth II is better than Wolfgang’s debut because it has more variety as well as better-quality songwriting. Around Wolfgang’s age (32), his father was enjoying the high points of the Sammy Hagar era, and first-generation rockers such as Jagger and Plant were at their mid-1970s peak. On the evidence of this record, Wolfgang’s best years are likely still ahead of him.