Van Halen - 1995 Balance

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ARTIST: Van Halen
ALBUM: Balance
LABEL: Warner Bros
SERIAL: 9 45760-2
YEAR: 1995

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: image

LINEUP: Sammy Hagar - vocals * Eddie Van Halen - guitar * Michael Anthony - bass * Alex Van Halen - drums

TRACK LISTING: 01 The Seventh Seal * 02 Can't Stop Lovin' You * 03 Don't Tell Me (What Love Can Do) * 04 Amsterdam * 05 Big Fat Money * 06 Strung Out * 07 Not Enough * 08 Aftershock * 09 Doin' Time * 10 Baluchitherium * 11 Take Me Back (Deja Vu) * 12 Feelin'

WEBLINKS: Site Link

Background

By 1995 the rock scene had become a wasteland populated by an endless parade of generic grunge bands and in my opinion things have never been the same since.

Bands like Van Halen had been dismissed as irrelevant and outdated, lacking the supposed social clout of the dour 'Seattle' movement (which itself was on the wane).

Van Halen though were big enough to overcome this miserable era thanks to their illustrious standing in hard rock circles and following the tour for 1991's 'F.U.C.K'. it's safe to say they were bigger than ever.

That didn't stop Eddie from growing a goatee and posing with then darling Billy Corgan on the cover of Guitar World mind you. As the legend has it Van Halen themselves were facing internal strain, with the brothers not too happy with Hagar releasing and promoting his 1994 hits set 'Unboxed'.

Somehow they managed to force this effort out, an uneven one in quality, but certainly much better than many of their one time contemporaries were doing in 1995. It definitely surpasses 'Van Halen III' by any stretch of the imagination.

The Songs

The tone of 'Balance' is much more serious than the three previous Hagar albums, an obligatory nod to the musical landscape of 1995 no doubt.

The opening monk chants of 'The Seventh Seal' reflect that, as does Eddie's more down tuned riffing. At the core though it could have been from 1991 and I keep expecting it to go to the chorus of 'Poundcake' at certain points.

It's heavy however, the most important factor, something 'Can't Stop Lovin' You' isn't. This type of sentimental love song was wearing a little thin, despite the melodic and hit appeal. This is the kind of track you knew David Lee Roth would never record with the band.

The band gets serious and brooding again on 'Don't Tell Me What Love Can Do' with an equally dramatic video that caused some flak, showing a teen offender doing hard time behind bars. Gritty and sobering perhaps? Maybe, but a long way off the party rock days of old.

The band does their best to fix this with 'Amsterdam', an ode to the notorious city and its charms. This is as close to '5150' or '0U812' as the albums gets, traditional Van Halen hard rock, tight melody and riffing, with the infamous 'wam bam Amsterdam!' chorus that the brothers disliked. I guess they were too good for that in 1995.

'Big Fat Money' is equally as good, a fast piece of boogie that sounds like Hagar solo material from the late 70's. This is where the album really starts to lose its way.

'Strung Out' is a brief instrumental from 1983 of Eddie tinkering around on a piano and ultimately is pointless, almost slasher film music.

'Not Enough' is a major wimp ballad, even by Van Hagar's standards and I really can't stand this song.

'Aftershock' peddles Metallica's 'Enter Sandman' riff slightly, a heavy and rather unadventurous rocker, but far more preferable to the ballads which surround it.

Two more instrumentals follow, the first of which 'Doin' Time' is rather nonsensical, with indescribable drum noises that lead into the far more palatable 'Baluchitheirum'. The latter is a great workout, with Eddie sounding more like his 80's self and the band as a whole. It benefits from Hagar not singing, as he supposedly did on the original recording.

From there it's two more dull slower tracks to end the album, 'Take Me Back (Deja vu)' gathering energy as it goes, but it's not very interesting and the Beatles type harmony effects are ill advised.

'Feelin' is even worse, six minutes plus of Sammy warbling, redeemed by a guitar solo which indicates Eddie was far from finished as an innovator, but shows how worn out this lineup had become with their direction.

True it had only been four albums, but I think it ended at the right time. Three years later and 'Van Halen III' would show just how deluded the brothers were.

In Summary

The album was another number one for the band and went triple platinum, astounding figures for a veteran hard rock band in 1995. With so many established bands flopping and breaking up, it proved the enduring appeal of Van Halen.

When you think back to the amount of 80's bands who turned to grunge to stay 'relevant' it also showed how Van Halen were leagues above them, with bums like Dokken and Warrant not big enough to do the same.

This is a slightly morose album by VH standards, but still identifiable enough, even with some fluff pieces.

Of course Hagar was gone a year later and the band didn't really recover, the aborted Roth reunion and Cherone experiment both deathly incidents that impeded the band until this year's classic album.

I'm not counting the brief Hagar 2004 reunion, with a handful of laughable new tracks on a greatest hits collection that year.

Opinions will differ on 'Balance' both on the quality of music and album art work, but usually any Van Halen is better than none and in 1995 this was a well needed respite from the throes of the ongoing hard rock capitulation.


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