My Record Collection: Van Halen III - Van Halen (1998)
Album Name: Van Halen III
Band Name: Van Halen
Genre: Hard Rock / Rock
Release Date: March 17, 1998
Band Members: Michael Anthony (Tracks 2, 3 and 7), Eddie Van Halen, Alex Van Halen and Gary Cherone
Last week, I reviewed 5150 which was an album where there was a changing of the guard. Van Halen changed their singers from the very popular David Lee Roth to Sammy Hagar.
This was another of those kinds of albums. At this point, Sammy Hagar had left the group and Gary Cherone from Extreme took over those duties. This was the first and last album to feature Gary Cherone.
Let us see how this album was in comparison to the other albums in their repertoire.
Up until this point, the uncertainty about Sammy Hagar's ability as the band's front man had disappeared. With Hagar as frontman Van Halen had four multi-platinum, #1 Billboard charting albums with 5150, OU812, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, and Balance. In addition to this, they had quite a few chart toppers such as Dreams, When This is Love, Black and Blue and Poundcake just to name a few.
Now depending on who you ask either Hagar quit or got fired. According to Eddie Van Halen Sammy Hagar quit. However, the story differs when told by Hagar. According to him it became harder and hard to write with Eddie.
From Sammy Hagar:
"That was the record where if I said black, Eddie said white, and I'd say, 'Okay, white,' he'd say, 'No, I want black,'" he told Rolling Stone. "I'd say, 'Okay, well, I wanted black to begin with.' Then Eddie would go, 'Well, I don't know what I want, I'll let you know when I do.' He just wanted the opposite of what I wanted." Also there are stories floating around that Eddie Van Halen was very demanding. It would seem that Eddie Van Halen wanted a change but he did not know what that change should be. Having said that, on June 1996 Sammy Hagar was no longer with the band.
Van Halen was looking for a new frontman. So they turned to their ex-front man David Lee Roth to appear on a Greatest Hits package. This did not sit well with Hagar as it felt like a slap in the face. However, that reunion only lasted for a few songs. Diamond Dave had left once again and now Van Halen was without a singer.
Ray Danniels who was managing Van Halen and Extreme at the same time had suggested Gary Cherone. Until that point, Extreme was pretty successful with a few chart toppers and Cherone had a really good voice. Extreme had split up and Cherone needed a gig. So things got rolling and then Van Halen III started to be worked on.
I remember reading at the time that Eddie said that Gary Cherone and him hit it off really quickly. The writing came naturally and that Cherone was a natural fit for the band. We will see later if that materialized on the album.
One member that you rarely hear about is Michael Anthony. I think that he is one of the most underrated bassists. However, even on this particular album, he had enough with Eddie Van Halen's antics. Anthony has gone on record as saying that Eddie was telling him how to play. In addition Eddie also played the drums on this album. According to Anthony, it felt more like a solo album than a group effort. After this point his involvement with the band greatly diminished.
So after all of this turmoil, Van Halen III was born.
1. Neworld (Intro)
2. Without You
3. One I Want
4. From Afar
5. Dirty Water Dog
7. Fire in the Hole
9. Year to the Day
10 .Primary (guitar solo by Eddie Van Halen)
11. Ballot or the Bullet
12. How Many Say I
Without You Official Video
I have to admit, that this is not Van Halen's greatest effort. However, I do not think that it is as bad as people think.
At the time, I remember looking forward to this album. Extreme who I loved had split up and Nuno Bettencourt had come up with a solo effort titled Schizophonic. It was an alright album with some really nice tracks but it was missing that little something that Gary Cherone provided. I was wondering if the same would happen with Van Halen. I had also thought at the time that Cherone in Van Halen was a weird fit but I was willing to give it a chance.
My first reaction to this album was, Gary Cherone tried to make Van Halen sound like Extreme. There are a few songs, most notably Once, that reminds you of the good old days of Extreme. One of the reasons is that it does not sound like a Van Halen song.
A song that sounds very similar to Once on an Extreme record is Is God Isn't Dead from III Sides to Every Story.
God Isn't Dead - Extreme
Once - Van Halen
Now that we have the comparisons out of the way, let us get to the meat of the matter. The songs themselves, how do they fare? In all honesty, there are more average or less average songs here than good ones.
The strongest songs on the album are Without You which made it to 27th on the Mainstream Rock Tracks on Billboard. Once is one of my favourites on the album even though it sounds like an Extreme song.
One I Want also is a good song on the album. This is where you can see the potential of this working with Van Halen and Cherone. I like the guitar and rhythm of this track.
After this, the rest of not that memorable. The weakest track on the album by far is the acoustic piano ballad by Eddie Van Halen called How Many Say I. The melody sounds odd at the beginning but eventually picks up and it is not all that bad. Then Eddie Van Halen tries to sing and it all falls apart. Van Halen the band is known for strong singers, Diamond Dave, Sammy Hagar and even Gary Cherone. Eddie Van Halen does not have the pipes to even carry a song on his own.
The funny part about this is that years later Eddie Van Halen stated that he was forced to sing on that album. I find that hard to believe. He made a hobby or career being a hard head and all of a sudden someone forced him to do this? I do not believe this. He wanted to do this and it was a failure, plain and simple.
In all of this, I feel for Gary Cherone. I think that he is judged unfairly on this album. Some argued that he sounded a lot like Hagar and it is true he does at certain times. However, I would argue his range is a lot larger than Hagar,
Cherone in an interview on KNAC radio station said the following:
"I would have preferred to tour with them and then put out a record," Cherone told KNAC. "It would have been a better idea to establish myself first and then hit the studio with the band… There were some great ideas and some little gems but it was not a great record. I had fun but at times it was like being a stranger in a strange land.
Many fans panned the album and never want to talk about it. In fact, not one song from this album appeared in the 2004 compilation album, Best of Both Worlds. Also the discussion is always who was the best Van Halen singer, David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar. Cherone is never part of those talks. It is unfortunate.
Van Halen had started writing the next album with the tentatively new album name of Van Halen IV. However, this did not get very far and was never released.
I think that there are a few songs here or there that are worth listening to. I would not say to go buy this album. If you want to hear Extreme, buy an extreme album. If you want to buy a true Van Halen album, go buy any other their previous efforts and you will be satisfied. This one feels like it was a pet project and it just did not work out.
What do you think? Let us know below.