Fair Warning – Van Halen

Fair Warning

Van Halen

1981

Warner Bros. Records

 Van Halen, one the most influential, popular bands of the ’70’s and ’80’s, has been an on-again, off-again project for who knows how long.  Original singer David Lee Roth left in 1984, Sammy Hagar left in 1996, Roth came back briefly for two songs, Gary Cherone came for an album (the worst album ever), had a reunion with Hagar, and now a reunion with Roth again, although bassist Michael Anthony has left.  Whew. 

This album, back in 1981, marks the beginning of possible problems within the infrastructure of the band.  Fair Warning is an album that was recorded during heavy binges of alcohol and cocaine use by Eddie Van Halen.  He and Roth apparently were also at odds about the content of the record, the former succeeded in having more seriousness rather than a poppier mood.  The album is a lot darker than most Roth-era Van Halen, yet it still possesses a sense of humor that unfortunately is lacking in their later works.

“Mean Street” opens the album with a fade-in of one of Eddie’s complicated guitar tapping lines.  The riff than changes to a funk-based rhythm.  Roth’s lyrics and vocals dominate with an attitude only hinted at before.  He sings of “searching for the latest thing, a break from this routine”, and he continues the line with “I’m talking some new kicks, ones like ain’t never seen” (Ah, remember the times when you could sing the phrase “new kicks” and not be ironic about it?).  After a verse or two and the following choruses, the band kicks into an even funkier guitar solo.  The required Van Halen break-down is even thrown in.  It’s an awesome song to kick the album off.

“”Dirty Movies”” (I feel so stupid typing that, for the song has quotes already) is the second song leading in with Alex’s drums and some slide guitar.  The song’s about a Prom Queen turned into a Pornstar, pretty much a normal topic for David Lee Roth and his obsession with pretty girls.  The verse sounds have rapped, and Eddie’s slinky riff in the back fits the sleazy mood perfectly.

“Sinner’s Swing!” is the most kick-ass song on the album, probably in the top three kick-ass VH songs ever (followed by “Everybody Wants Some!!” which is just sheer ass-kickitude).  The riff is pure hard-rock, and sounds so awesome.  The lyrics have a lot of attitude, (“She looks so fuckin’ good, so sexy and so frail”) and Roth even brings a little “My Generation” style vocals into the second verse with some stuttering (the sign of a real bad-ass song).  The drop-d tuning of the guitar lends a heaviness to the song that could’ve been offset by the actual catchiness of the chorus (“G-get get get get get out and push!”).  The solo is particularly inspired, which isn’t saying much because almost every Van Halen solo is amazing.  This gets my vote for best song, which can only be disputed because of the next two.

“Hear About it Later” could be Van Halen’s best arranged and written song.  It starts off slow with tasteful single notes outlining chords.  Pay attention, as the song progresses, the tempo quickens, which creates a desperate demeanor to the song.  The lyrics are decent, somewhat serious for Roth, and he sings them with a conviction not heard on other songs (there’s even a major lack of his quirky yelps, maybe only one or two, if any).  The solo also sets the song apart from others.  Instead of adding the guitar on top of everything else like normal and keeping the song’s flow intact, the continuity drops out, changing the song to focus on the eclectic guitar which sounds like it doesn’t really know where to go.

The biggest single of Fair Warning is “Unchained”, the fifth song.  Again, the drop-d tuning accentuates the poppiness while also grounding the song.  The riff during the verses serves almost as a bass, with the guitar playing on the lower strings.  The lyrics are completely nonsensical (“Thought you’d never miss me ’till I got a fat-city address”?  What the hell does that mean?), but by now, Roth has earned it and it just sounds cool coming from him anyway.  I think he even knows it is as the breakdown borders on self-parody.  Dave has his little “Hey, man, that suit is you!  Whoowhee!  You’ll get some leg tonight for sure!” crazy half-sung, half-spoken, sexual-innuendo-laden speech, only to be interrupted, “C’mon, Dave, give us a break”.

“Push Comes to Shove” is a laid-back blues.  The drums rely heavily on hi-hats, and the bass has a jumpy line to follow, so the song sounds different from other’s in the Van Halen repertoire.  Overall, it’s a rather weak song, but it shows the band trying something relatively new, which is very respectable.  It’s not a bad song, just doesn’t feel up to par with the rest of the album.

“So this is Love?” starts strangely, with a drop in the volume.  However, it kicks back up in time.  While not an outstanding song at all, it does show a good arrangement.  The verses are refined, content with keeping back, only for the chorus to break forward electrically.  It’s a catchy song, good guitar solo, and has crazy Dave vocals at the end.  While not pushing any boundaries like others on Fair Warning, it at least serves as a foil for them as it’s the most regular Van Halen song on here.

“Sunday Afternoon in the Park” is a dark, bass and drum heavy instrumental that serves as little more than an intro into “One Foot Out the Door”.  “One Foot” is a very short song (even shorter than “Sunday Afternoon” strangely) at 1:56.  It’s the darkest song on the album, but it offers little more than being a throwaway.  the lyrics are only about leaving one’s lover as her husband is coming home.  The song is depressing to end with, solely because it does not reflect the mood of the album at all.  Instead it’s one part weird effects, one part bad lyrics, and one part Eddie solo (which is still awesome, no doubt, just doesn’t work as being half the damn song).  If they couldn’t have written a better tune in time for the release, the least they could’ve done is throw these two songs halfway through the album to be more cohesive.

In conclusion, Fair Warning shows Van Halen developing their sound and trying new things.  While it’s not their best album (Some still say their first album, others say 1984, I particularly like Women and Children First), it has great moments, with some of their best written songs.  Needless to say, anyone saying Van Halen was better with Hagar could still be shown this album be told to shut up (if not executed.  I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to think such a thing in most states).  With the three songs “Sinner’s Swing!”, “Hear About it Later”, and “Unchained” on it, Fair Warning is definitely worth repeated listenings, and will still instill one with the ability to air-guitar on the instant.

Buy this Album

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