The somber black and white cover could have been a knowing allusion to Meet the Beatles!
, but it's really a signal that Van Halen
is playing it for keeps on OU812
, their second record with Sammy Hagar. Indeed, the striking thing about OU812
is that all its humor is distilled into a silly punny title, because even the party tunes here -- and there are many -- are performed with a dogged, determined vibe. When David Lee Roth
fronted the band, almost everything that Van Halen did seemed easy -- as big, boisterous, and raucous as an actual party -- but Van Hagar makes good times seem like tough work here. Apart from a few cuts -- the countryish hook on "Finish What Ya Started," the slow, bluesy strut "Black and Blue" -- the riffs are complicated, not catchy, the rhythms plod, they don't rock, and Sammy strains to inject some good times by singing too hard. It gives OU812
a bit of a dour feel, not entirely dissimilar to Fair Warning
, but unlike that early unheralded gem, this isn't a descent into darkness; it's merely a very inward rock record, as Eddie Van Halen
pushes the band toward interesting musical territory. Often, this takes the form of jazzy chord changes or harmonies -- most evidently on the sleek opener, "Mine All Mine," but also on the otherwise metallic boogie "Source of Infection" -- but there's also "Cabo Wabo," the longest jam they've laid down on record to date, and a cover of Little Feat
's "A Apolitical Blues" (which could have been a salute to producer Ted Templeman
's early glories as much as a chance to do some down-n-dirty blues rock). Of course, there's also a pair of power ballads here, both poppier than the ones on 5150
-- "When It's Love" is pure balladry, "Feels So Good" rides along on a gurgling synth -- but really, they're red herrings on a record that's the hardest, darkest rock Van Halen has made since Fair Warning
. And if it isn't as good as that record (even if it's nearly not as much fun), it's nevertheless the best showcase of the instrumental abilities of Van Hagar.