Saturday, 10 June 2017

"Van Halen" by VAN HALEN (July 2000 'Warners Remasters' CD Reissue of their 1978 debut album (also 2015 Reissue) - Chris Bellman Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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I was working with a band in Dublin in 1978. We were young, open-minded and little dreamers like everyone else. I can vividly remember the visceral sense of Coolock excitement when we first laid our expanding ears on this sonic assault of "Van Halen" in Jimmy Meade's shed come-rehearsal-room - this guitar-brother from another deranged mother.

Although of course we didn't realise it at the time - the February 1978 debut "Van Halen" was a game changer - least not of all this came-out-of-nowhere plank-spanker called Eddie Van Halen. As his wild fret-work and harmonics came screaming out off the instrumental "Eruption" in yet another genius Ted Templeman production - the man who'd brought the world the beast that was "Montrose" back in 1973 and The Doobie Brothers "The Captain And Me" in the same year - I can remember all of us looking at each other. We were utterly gobsmacked. Like Hendrix and Rory Gallagher before them and later Stevie Ray Vaughan on another format - we stood there gawking at the vinyl LP turning around and around and wondered - how was this American cheeky-chappy getting those sounds out of his Cellotaped guitar? We didn’t know – nor did we know our hammer-ons from out hammer-and-nails – but we knew it was exciting and new and we wanted more of it.

I wish I could express the same excitement about this bog-standard 'Warner Remasters' CD of 2000 or its farcical reissue masquerading as a '2015 Remaster' when its bleeding obvious it's the same version done back in 2000. Here are devilish details and hammer-on comparisons...

UK released July 2000 - "Van Halen" by VAN HALEN on Warner Brothers 9362-47737-2 (Barcode 093624773726) in the 'Warner Remasters' Series is a straightforward CD transfer of the 1978 11-track Debut LP and plays out as follows (35:31 minutes):

1. Runnin' With The Devil [Side 1]
2. Eruption
3. You Really Got Me
4. Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love
5. I'm The One
6. Jamie's Cryin' [Side 2]
7. Atomic Punk
8. Feel Your Love Tonight
9. Little Dreamer
10. Ice Cream Man
11. On Fire
Tracks 1 to 11 are their debut album "Van Halen" - released February 1978 in the USA on Warner Brothers BSK 3075 and April 1978 in the UK on Warner Brothers K 56470. Produced by TED TEMPLEMAN - it peaked at No. 19 in the USA and No. 34 in the UK.

The gatefold slip of paper that acts as an inlay - does the basic necessities and bugger-all else. And while the CHRIS BELLMAN Remaster done at Bernie Grundman Mastering is fantastic stuff - only amplifying that amazingly loose yet precise Ted Templeman production - the overall feel here is one of what WB 'could get away with' without being downright insulting.

So what you have here is an incendiary five-star debut album - a genuine Rock helter Skelter - given a five-star Remaster but housed in two-star packaging. Van Halen fans did get a bit excited in 2015 when the band's website announced '2015 Remasters' but that issue on Warner Brothers 081227955243 (Barcode same) has exactly the same crappy slip of paper and 'no reference' anywhere to a new 2015 copyright date or remaster - so it's just the same bloody thing costing fans more wasted readies. Some have said the sound is slightly better - but when I had my copy I couldn't honestly hear it. However - and I must emphasise this - the Chris Bellman transfer (which as I say I'm sure has been used on both issues) is rocking - an absolute belter. Let's get to the music...

I may risk suggestions of a frontal lobotomy from fans for this - but if I'm completely honest I've never really liked "Runnin' With The Devil" as a tune. Compared to genius like the simple Rock riffage of "Little Dreamer" or the astonishing speed opening of "I'm The One" and the band just ripping into that 'Van Halen' sound - I've always thought "Runnin'..." ever so slightly naff. No such problems with the volcanic spew of "Eruption" - an excuse for guitar pyrotechnics - an instrumental that always takes me back to that moment in 1978 when we first pulled the tarpaulin sheet off this Harley Davison of a band. Followed by a truly fantastic 'rawk' version of The Kinks classic "You Really Got Me" - Van Halen put their unique stamp on a song that many thought too familiar by far. Re-listening to it now is a blast - and are Clara and Dee Dee (name-checked in the thank you credits) the girls who moan towards the end?

Titanic riffage continues with their own "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" - a genuinely great example of Hard Rock and a slayer of a single (and don't you just love that melodic solo). An amazing Side 1 ends with an amazing piece of show-stopping Eddie Van Halen playing on "I'm The One" – wild guitar soloing as Lee Roth 'ha ha ha's' his vocal way through typically humble lyrics about how all the ladies would be frankly privileged to have a bit of Dave's generous microphone-stand in their lives. Other goodies on Side 2 include "Atomic Kitten" which Warner Brothers put on the B-side of "You Really Got Me" in February 1978 - the debut Van Halen 7" single in the UK (Warner Brothers K 17107) and USA (Warner Brothers 8515). And of course that lethal one-two sucker punch that is "Little Dreamer" and the old-timey Rock 'n' Roll of "Ice Cream Man" - actually one of my fave-raves on the album.

To sum up - if you're buying a Remaster I'd suggest plumbing for the 2000 issue which is available online for peanuts. Or if so inclined and you’re willing to discover just how good Van Halen were - go for the 2013 six-disc box set "Studio Albums 1978-1984". It gives you the 2000 Remasters in six singular card sleeves with the very best of the Dave Lee Roth period for a nadge below fifteen quid. Included are the underrated covers-album "Diver Down" from 1982 and the huge "1984" LP with "Jump" and "Panama" that sent them global and Dave flying into the air with his fragrant tassels dangling in the wind.

"Atomic Punk" and "On Fire" - song-titles that sum up "Van Halen" - this beast of a record that astonishingly will be 40 years young in February 2018. Thanks for the party boys...

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