The endless cycle of remaster, repress and re-sell continues. Van Halen’s debut was first released on CD in 1984, received a 24-carat gold plating in 1998, and an HDCD remaster arrived two years later. The latter came adorned by a sticker proudly proclaiming its digital credentials, but 15 years on the sonic pendulum has swung the other way, and Van Halen’s first six albums – those released before Diamond Dave left home and the Red Rocker moved in – have been remastered once again, this time cut straight from the original quarter-inch tape. Vinyl versions, for those with deeper pockets, are also available.
Eddie Van Halen has claimed that he never listens to music apart from his own, as he writes it, and the debut album suggests this might not be mere bluster. These vibrant songs would have been dismissed as too silly, too succinct, too different by anyone lost to the thrall of other musicians, and, like the best original albums, it’s entirely without precedent.
David Lee Roth may have been cut from similar cloth to Jim Dandy, but everything still feels thrillingly fresh and larger-than-life, from Eddie’s fleet fingering to Alex’s rattling toms and Michael Anthony’s distinctly propulsive bass. Not many bands would have had the balls to put the solo instrumental Eruption on a debut, let alone make it the second track. As statements of intent go, it’s right up there. (9⁄10)
Van Halen II (8⁄10) is lighter on landmark moments, but largely sticks to the first album’s template apart from Eddie’s solo acoustic Spanish Fly. Women And Children First (7⁄10) is where the divisions first start to appear, with the guitarist’s clear desire to be taken seriously seemingly at odds with his singer’s growing propensity for novelty, but And The Cradle Will Rock… and the mock tribal Everybody Wants Some!! confirm the chemistry still works.
This is less true of Fair Warning (7⁄10), which doesn’t sound like much fun at all, but it’s a fierce, beguiling listen. Diver Down (7⁄10) is heavy on the cover versions, with a swaggering version of The Kinks’ Where Have All The Good Times Gone? a highlight, while 1984 (9⁄10) finds the band back at their exuberant, fiery best. The title track, Panama and Hot For Teacher sound completely unlike anyone else, before or since, and are deliriously, unapologetically unique.