The son of Eddie Van Halen, Wolfgang began his apprenticeship in the family firm early, tinkering around on uncle Alex’s drum kit during soundchecks when he was nine, before dad bought him his own kit.
Five years later he’d taken up guitar and was making occasional appearances on stage with the band, duetting with dad on the instrumental 316 that was written to commemorate his birthday. He was just 15 when he joined Van Halen full-time as their bassist, following the acrimonious firing of Mike Anthony along with frontman Sammy Hagar.
That explains why Wolfgang had no qualms about playing all the instruments on this, his first solo album, as well as doing the vocals. He’s more than competent at whichever instrument he happens to have in his hands at the time. You might wish for the thrill of hearing musicians sparking off each other in the studio, but Wolfgang renders such a concept irrelevant amid the modern-day hi-tech recording studio. And hearing him go a little crazy on drum and bass during Feel provides its own thrill.
Wolfgang's vocals might lack memorable character, but right now the forceful energy he throws into his songs is enough. The only objective presence in the studio was producer Michael ‘Elvis’ Baskette (Slash, Alter Bridge), who has done a fine job in giving the album a consistency and clarity amid the intensity.
The spectre of dad Eddie is a recurring theme on the album, right down to the title, which is the name of the band Eddie and Alex started out with before the family name took over, and it’s bookended with tributes to Eddie. He’d have chuckled at the vigorous tapping on opener Mr Ed. And while the closing Distance, released as the first single late last year, is a more heartfelt song, its direct approach prevents it from becoming mawkish.
The album’s overall pace is relentless and peppered with false stops and starts. Among the stand-out tracks are the poppy but forceful Think It Over with its shades of Jimmy Eat World, the arena-rocking anthem Don’t Back Down with its glam-tinged chorus, and the chunky riffs of You’re To Blame that lead to a spectacular guitar solo – all high bending notes and slick runs.
Interestingly, Wolfgang Van Halen has a band in the wings, waiting for gigs to get the green light. If they can add a group dynamic to this album they’ll mop up the pent-up energy that’s hanging in the air.