Over at Grantland, Chuck Klosterman writes about the new Van Halen album as an unabashed fan. In summary, I agree with almost everything he says; having listened to the whole thing on Spotify, I’m impressed by the technical accomplishment but ultimately left wanting. I did take issue with the following statement, though (italics mine):

Rolling Stone critic and Grantland contributor Jon Dolan once told me that the core problem with Eddie Van Halen was that his solos were “way too Astroturf,” and I begrudgingly understand what he means — at times, there is an inflexible, synthetic aftertaste to all the finger-tapping and pinballing. Either by accident or on purpose, Eddie galvanized the universal belief in metal circles that playing fast was the only way to prove you were playing well (a collective assumption that lasted from the summer of ’79 until the advent of Slash). Sometimes his competence is repetitive. But his leads are almost always propulsive, and you can’t really criticize his tone; the only thing you can say is that sometimes that tone is better and sometimes that tone is worse.

I disagree with that assessment. Eddie’s strength, what elevated his band above and beyond all the glam-rock wannabes haunting MTV in the eighties, was the mixture of his virtuosity, song composition, and a desire to push things further. Listen to any mid 80’s hair metal guitar solo, and you’re hearing an arpeggio lesson in the back room of the Guitar Center. Listen to the guitar solo in Jump and try to keep time along with it. There’s an arpeggio in there, but it’s bookended by odd, off-time runs and phrases—not the centerpiece of the solo. He leaves that for the synth solo (which I always thought was his way of saying, “I blew your minds six years ago; let’s see if any of you punks have the balls to follow this.”)

Eddie, at his peak, wrote symphonies for a four-piece band while all the kids who worshipped him wrote songs to showcase their finger-tapping speed. The tracks on this new album are better for having Dave present, but there’s a little too much Dave and not enough symphony. Keep working, guys—I’m pulling for you.

Date posted: February 10, 2012 | Filed under music | Leave a Comment »

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