In late 2011, Van Halen announced a new full-length album with former singer David Lee Roth was on the horizon for early 2012, finally putting an end to the often-agonizing wait for long time fans of the band. Depending on which school of thought you come from as an appreciator of Van Halen, you have either been waiting sixteen, fourteen or eight years for new material from your favorite band (Roth last recorded songs with the band in 1996, the last full length album was released in 1998 and Hagar last took the mic in 2004). Personally, I’m a rare breed of Van Halen fan, appreciating all eras and albums in their own way. I never got into the Roth vs. Hagar argument – I saw them as two different bands, each with some really excellent material. Plus, I liked the Gary Cherone-fronted Van Halen 3, unlike just about most of planet Earth. Additionally, I enjoyed the solo output of both post-Van Halen Roth and Hagar, even during their shakiest moments. In short, I am a fan of this band and all its current and former members. Well, at least until recently, that is.
Since Van Halen announced their intention to release new material with David Lee Roth, a seemingly scorned Sammy Hagar has done nothing but open his mouth and spew his opinion in the press, tarnishing his reputation as a laid-back, party-loving rocker in the process. In most cases, I have zero problem with somebody expressing their thoughts on a subject they have been close to at one time or another. After all, it seems logical for Sammy Hagar to hold an opinion on the current state of Van Halen, given the fact that he fronted the band for a number of years. The trouble is that Hagar has done nothing but speak in contradiction and fuzzy truths to make himself and his current project (the supergroup Chickenfoot) look like the better option. I suppose nobody told Sammy that nobody is required to choose one over the other.
When Van Halen announced this past November that they had signed with Interscope Records to release their new album is when Hagar first chimed in. When asked by Rolling Stone magazine what his thoughts were regarding the signing and subsequent album, Hagar answered, “How long has it been since they did a record? And that last one doesn’t count.” Clearly, Sammy isn’t a fan of Van Halen 3, which is no bold stance considering its large commercial and critical failure. But unlike the general public, Hagar has shared a stage with Cherone. During Boston stop on the the joint Hagar/Roth tour in 2002, Hagar had Cherone join himself and former Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony to perform two Van Halen hits, “Dreams” and “When It’s Love.” Hagar’s introduction to Cherone that evening? “I can’t sing this…ladies and gentlemen, local homeboy, Gary Cherone.” So, if Cherone wasn’t good enough to front Van Halen and you suggest his time in the band should be forgotten, why have him participate in your live show and perform Van Halen songs you admittedly can’t sing any longer? And what’s more, Hagar included the performances from that night on his 2003 live release, Hallelujah!
If that wasn’t enough to illustrate how Sammy Hagar might be somewhat disingenuous, he has continued to insert his foot firmly in his mouth in the press since. When music website Radio Metal asked the singer what he thought of the new Van Halen album A Different Kind of Truth upon its release in February 2012, Hagar had this to say: What I’ve heard so far, I wasn’t impressed with at all, personally…I think they chose to take the easy route and take some of their old stuff and and re-record it instead of writing new songs.” Now, by the band’s own admission, some of the songs on Truth were reworkings of those that appeared on their 1976 and 1977 demo tapes, prior to the release of their first album, Van Halen, in 1978. In most cases (illustrated by listening to said demos) the original music is slightly rearranged and Roth’s lyrics and melodies are almost entirely new. But this practice was only used on six of the thirteen new songs, or fewer than half. The others are completely new songs, which negates Hagar’s statement that the band did not write any new material.
While we’re on the subject of reusing old material, let’s take a look at Hagar’s 2008 solo release, Cosmic Universal Fashion. Three of that album’s ten songs (“Cosmic Universal Fashion,” “Psycho Vertigo” and “Peephole”) were previously recorded and shelved for years, presumably having not made the cut for any of his other records. The final track on the album is “Dreams/Cabo Wabo,” a medley of two Van Halen hits recorded live in concert. Also included is a rote cover of The Beastie Boys’ 1987 success, “Fight For Your Right To Party.” So, out of ten songs, five of them were actually written by Hagar for this particular release. Now, I’m not the best at mathematics, but Hagar seems to be phoning it in at a slightly higher percentage rate than he claims Van Halen is. I suppose, then, the statement that followed applied to himself just as much as he suggests it does for Van Halen: To me it makes a strange statement. It kind of says, ‘We don’t have anything, we’re not a band anymore, we’re not creative.’ Isn’t it a strange statement to you?” It certainly is, Sam. And it also shines a very bright light on why Cosmic was your last solo release before you formed a new band, Chickenfoot, in 2009.
Speaking of Chickenfoot (the supergroup featuring Hagar, Michael Anthony, guitar whiz Joe Satriani and Chili Pepper Chad Smith), Hagar felt the need to compare his new band to his former band in yet another public forum. While speaking with Ultimate Classic Rock, Hagar let this little gem make it to press: “If you take Joe versus Eddie, you take Dave versus me, Wolfie versus Mikey, Chad or Kenny versus Al… I mean, come on! You know what I mean? Man for man, who can sing the best? Dave or I, today? Who can play the best? Joe or Eddie, today? Who could play or sing the best? Wolfie or Mikey?” Okay, so Sam’s proud of his new band. And he should be, too. Chickenfoot has released two excellent records thus far and have given alot of rock band’s a run for their money in terms of music quality. But if you take a second to think about it, Hagar is essentially doing to Van Halen the same thing he bemoaned David Lee Roth for doing back in the late 80s, when Roth would compare his then-new solo band (featuring another guitar whiz, Steve Vai) to his former band, the Hagar-fronted Van Halen. That’s right…Hagar is currently doing the very thing he bitched about David Lee Roth doing back in 1986. How’s that for integrity and consistency?
If his most recent statements regarding the current state of his former band aren’t enough to demonstrate Hagar’s penchant for hypocrisy, more evidence can be found in his version of what happened before, during and after the ill-fated 2004 Van Halen reunion tour. By all accounts, Eddie Van Halen was in really bad shape during that tour, allegedly behaving in a very abusive manner and turning in mediocre performances due to his excessive drinking. Hagar would later recount the events of the tour in his 2011 autobiography, “Red: My Uncensored Life In Rock,” where the contradictions are abound. First, his statements about meeting with Eddie to attempt to bury the hatchet and get the band back out on the road: “I had been waiting at 5150 studios for more than an hour when Eddie finally showed up. I hadn’t seen him in a decade. He looked like he hadn’t bathed in a week. He certainly hadn’t changed his clothes in at least that long. He wasn’t wearing a shirt. He had a giant overcoat and army pants, tattered and ripped at the cuffs, held up with a piece of rope. I’d never seen him so skinny in my life. He was missing a number of teeth and the ones he had left were black. His boots were so worn out he had gaffer’s tape wrapped around them, and his big toe stuck out.” So Eddie turns up to your first meeting looking like a homeless junkie and you still entertained going out on tour with him? He justifies it like this: “This was Eddie Van Halen, one of the sweetest guys I ever met. He had turned into the weirdest fuck I’d ever seen, crude, rude and unkempt. I should have walked, but Eddie’s got a very charming, cunning side to him, where you feel like he’s got a good heart. He’s going to come through. He’s going to clean up and we’re going to get this thing done.” Okay, fair enough. Eddie is clearly in no shape to tour, but your past experience leads you to think he’s going to pull it together. Fair enough, Sam. You worked with him for years, you know him better than most.
Benefit of the doubt provided, let’s see what unfolded following that first meeting: “Our new manager, Irving Azoff, agreed to hold an intervention with Eddie. He brought a big, beefy security guard and met Al and me at 5150. Eddie walked in, carrying his wine bottle. Irving did all the talking. He told Eddie the tour was going to be difficult, that he needed to go away for a week or two, that we could postpone some dates if we needed. We all agreed Eddie needed to clean up.” Again, fair enough, Sam. You saw there was a problem and attempted to address it. Clearly, Eddie was in no shape to tour unless he went to rehab for a little while. Seems straightforward enough – no rehab, no tour, right?
Let’s check back in with Hagar: “From the start of the tour, Eddie made some terrible mistakes and it seemed like he couldn’t remember the songs. He would just hit the whammy bar and go wheedle-wheedle-whee.” Okay, so clearly Ed wasn’t up to it from the first night. If a man who has a reputation for his guitar playing and consistent performance quality comes onstage the first night playing poorly and acting strangely, something might be seriously up. Perhaps you should have pulled the plug then and tried harder to intervene and save a guy that you profess was once such a good friend and a genuinely nice guy. But no, instead: “They kept us apart as much as they could. We flew in different jets. We stayed at different hotels. We had our own limos. They had their bodyguards. Mike and I had ours. I stayed in my own dressing room on the other side of the hall. The only time I saw that guy was when we stepped out onstage.” Excellent…so instead of getting Ed off the road and into rehab, you soldiered ahead and had zero interaction with the guy except for when you went onstage. You couldn’t stand the guy, yet you performed with him every night. And you question the motives of the current Van Halen camp? Seems like you were in it for the money just as much as you suggest they are now.
I could continue on for quite a while longer pointing out the hypocrisy of the latter day Sammy Hagar, but it honestly brings this longtime fan alot of sadness. I always thought Sam was a real stand-up kind of guy and made sure to buy all of his post-Van Halen solo records to show him support for all the great years of music he afforded me while he was in the band. And for the most part, I really liked his post-Van Halen material. But from now on, I will always have a shade of utter disappointment whenever I hear or read anything about Sammy Hagar from this point forward. For a guy that regards himself as such a fan-friendly guy, he certainly let this one down considerably.
Neil Young’s recent roll-out of his “Archive Series” has been a treasure trove of recordings from the man’s vault, featuring live and studio recordings that have either never seen the light of day at all or have never been released with such painstaking quality in mind. So far, fans have gotten the legendary performance from Massey Hall in 1971, a smoking set by Young and Crazy Horse from the Fillmore in 1970, some early recordings from 1968 and a mammoth boxed set spanning 1963-1972. But no release in the series thus far matches the quality and exuberance of the latest release in the project, the live acoustic, Dreamin’ Man Live 1992.
Recorded on tour in 1992, Dreamin’ Man captures Neil Young when he’s perhaps at his finest: alone. The album’s ten tracks (which mirror his 1992 studio release, Harvest Moon, in content but not running order) solely feature Young on each performance, using a guitar, harmonica or piano to accompany his stark-yet-alluring vocals. Gone are the lush, low-key colorations found on the album versions of the same songs, replaced by an intimate air that make already perfect songs that much more so. At the very least, it’s proof that Neil Young doesn’t need bells and whistles to make his music sound good – it can stand on its own just fine.
Dreamin’ Man opens with its title track, a beautiful tune that is given a new luster in this minimalist approach. The song gives way to “Such a Woman,” reduced to Young and his piano relating a simple message of love. Next up is “One of These Days,” a track that was amazing in its studio form and comes off quite well in this setting as Young recalls his past with gentle strums and heartfelt lyrics. It’s a poignant moment that stands out amongst the many others that surround it throughout the album’s hour.
Dreamin’ Man earns its accolades beginning with the next song, the absolutely magical “Harvest Moon.” The original version of this song is one that feels as though it was recorded beneath the very feature it is titled after, with a light acoustic guitar accompanied by brushed percussion, a stand-up bass and lilting backing vocals. Here as before, it is just Young and his guitar/harmonica combo and the listener is still treated to a song that sounds as though it was recorded sitting in front of a barn as opposed to a theater full of people. The subtle harmonics that once blended into the background are now brought forward, giving Young’s admittedly off-kilter vocal style that much more of a chance to shine through the mix.
“Harvest Moon” is quickly followed by “You and Me,” a move that reverses their order from the original studio album. Here, the songs belong together, as the stripped down version of “Harvest Moon” merges quite will with the already bare bones “You and Me,” another simple yet thoroughly moving song of love. They are a pair of songs that you never want to end, but luckily when they do Young has more than enough to stave off disappointment.
Dreamin’ Man is rounded out by “War of Man,” a haunting tale of the ongoing battle between man and the natural environment. On paper, that sounds as though it would be somewhat of a soapbox step-up for Young, but he manages to convey his point without getting too preachy. Instead, it’s a powerful closing to a truly beautiful collection of recordings from one of the most endeared periods in Young’s vast career. If the remainder of the “Archive Series” includes releases as undeniably strong as this, listeners will be in for one hell of a treat.
– Ian Rice
To purchase a copy of Dreamin’ Man Live 1992, please click here.
October 13, 2009
Warner Bros. Records
Victim of Loudness War? Yes
Throughout the course of their now twenty-five year career, The Flaming Lips have never failed to keep the surprises coming. Whether it be their shift away from psychedelic punk with 1992’s Hit to Death In the Future Head, their more commercial leanings with 1993’s Transmissions From the Satellite Heart or the sprawling audio experiment that was 1997’s Zaireeka, the band always has a new trick up its sleeve and it more often than not proves to be a winner. The band’s artistic success culminated with the 1999 masterwork, The Soft Bulletin, a loose concept album that was equal parts beautiful and dark and set the bar amazingly high for any releases to follow it. Fortunately, the band rose to the task, submitting Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots in 2002, an album that closely rivaled its predecessor in both commercial and creative victory.
The Flaming Lips found themselves in an interesting position with regards to the follow-up to their 2006 release, At War With the Mystics. While its content was on par with the two records that came before it, Mystics sadly failed to make much of an imprint with the general public, reluctantly going Gold but making far less of an impression as its predecessors. Thus, The Flaming Lips were in the unique place where a musical reinvention was practically begging to be had. Enter their latest release, Embryonic, an album that is just as creative yet far more haunting than anything the band has released to date.
Embryonic opens with “Convinced of the Hex,” a track that eerily drags along before winding up in an anthemic chant that proves undeniably catchy in spite of itself. In just under four minutes, the track effectively sets the tone for the record, a dark, chilling soundscape that almost fights your enjoyment of it. Take “Aquarius Sabotage,” for example: never before have ear-splittingly distorted guitars and over-modulated vocals joined together to create such a seductive track. It’s a sound that shouldn’t be appealing, yet somehow is.
That’s not to say that the entirety of Embryonic is nerve-testing noise. On the contrary, Wayne Coyne and Co. insert enough melodic pleasure into the proceedings to effectively counter the aural assault found in the other tracks. “Evil,” is a prime example of such quiet moments, with its gently synthesizer tones and wonderfully subdued vocals combining to create a sound that is anything but what its title suggests. The same goes for the gently-lilting “If,” which is perhaps the best entry into the Flaming Lips catalog since the brilliant “Do You Realize??” nearly a decade ago.
The simple fact remains that if you weren’t on board with The Flaming Lips up until now, Embryonic isn’t going to change your mind. Despite its complete stylistic turnaround, the music contained here isn’t interested in attracting new listeners. Rather, it seeks to give those who have stuck around for the last few decades something new to deal with. After all, that’s the whole point of the Flaming Lips – they never let you (or themselves, for that matter) get too comfortable with their sound. So sit back and watch the planets with one of the few acts left that stills dares to be original, inspired and off-center in such a mainstream musical climate.
– Ian Rice
To purchase a copy of Embryonic, please click here.
Lynyrd Skynyrd – God and Guns
September 29, 2009
Victim of Loudness War? Yes
Listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s latest release, God and Guns, it’s hard to fathom how the band strayed so far from their original (and far superior) sound. Gone are the down-home grooves and simple-yet-brilliant lyrical themes present on the band’s classic material, the songs that built their legend and remain endeared by the masses since their debut over three decades prior. What remains are trite rockers and forced ballads, reminiscent of much of the country-pop scene that is dominating the Billboard charts as of late. The bulk of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s current recordings are nothing but throwaways, nothing more than an obvious cash grab wrapped in an effort to keep the present day lineup and its name on tour and raking in the dough. Continue reading