Van Halen III

I’m giving a listen to Van Halen III for the first time since it originally came out and horribly disappointed me back in the day as a lifelong Van Halen fan.

This album came out in 1998 long after David Lee Roth left the band and less longer after Sammy Hagar left the band.  Gary Cherone, then a recent exile from Extreme the guys that gave us More Than Words, came in to take over vocal duties for the band.  On paper it looked like a match that made sense.  Cherone has pretty good range and could easily hit the notes you’d need to hit to jam along with Eddie, Alex and Mike.  Plus Extreme has some catchy songs.

What we got instead was a very bizarre mix of thoughtless and pointless jams.  It was like Van Halen tried to make a prog-rock album by making the entire thing up on the spot.  I remember listening and struggling to even find discernible riffs.

You know how Edward Van Halen is considered a revolutionary guitar player?  How he’s at the top of nearly every “Best Guitarist” list?  You’d never know it from this album.  Everything about it is forgettable and it’s pretty much bare of anything we know as “Van Halen”.

I felt especially bad for Cherone for trudging into this mess.  I picture him having a hard time trying to find a point to follow along with to write lyrics and sing to.  A Van Halen song, in the very least, should be easy to follow.  But that’s not what Van Halen III is.

Shortly after this album they parted ways with Cherone and made another comeback attempt with Hagar in 2004.  That didn’t work out.  Eventually they made another album with Roth in 2012, the surprisingly tight and heavy, A Different Kind of Truth, and are still with him today.

Let’s give a fresh listen and break it down track by track.  Why not?  It’s been almost 20 years.

….

Neworld (Instrumental)– Opening preamble to the album.  Mike Post, a producer on this disc and a composer of TV themes like the Law & Order series, played piano.  It’s pleasant enough but it just straight up doesn’t need to be there and doesn’t at all give any kind of indication of what’s to come.  Actually, I take that back, it vaguely sounds like the chorus to the next song.  Huh.  Whatever.  Still sucks.

Without You– The first single from the album.  Kinda catchy and chugs along in a Poundcake kind of way but mostly it’s sloppy as fuck.  What’s with the pre-chorus that has the weird vocal effect?  Eddie’s solos (he takes more than one) have a few cool moments but there’s no flow to it.  It’s just awkward.  And like a lot of songs on the album it goes about 2-3 minutes longer than it should.

One I Want– The lyrics I can make out are pretty terrible.  The song sounds like it was generated out of a stoned jam session consisting of teenagers trying Acapulco Gold for the first time.  I’ve listened to it three times now and I still have no idea what the riff is.  Pretty terrible.

From Afar– “Okay, guys, game plan…we’ll start it soft and then we’ll gradually get more boring.  I’ll start with this riff.  Then I’ll play this other riff.  Than a bunch of other shit will happen. And Gary, sing the most awkward lyrics you can imagine.”

Dirty Water Dog– “Eddie, question here…what exactly is a ‘Dirty Water Dog’?”  “A dirty water dog is a dog that’s been in water that’s dirty and…I…yeah, I dunno, just kinda yell it at the chorus.  Wherever that is.”  To it’s credit this actually kind of sounds like a song with an actual groove.  And the guitar has a cool swampy sound to it.  Overall it works a little.

Once– Opening piano riff and drum programming sounds a little bit like I’ll Wait.  Actually pretty good.  Gary does a great falsetto.  Sadly, though, falsetto is probably the least required Van Halen vocal skill.  Eddie does some nice soloing too.  Credit where it’s due, I think this one actually works overall.

Fire in the Hole– Pretty decent opening riff and a kicking groove.  Way more coherant than the other singles.  Also, random Wiki fact, this is one of only 3 tracks that bassist Micheal Anthony plays bass on.  I mean not that you can particularly tell.

Josephina– Starts out as some weirdass acoustic song.  Kind of waltzy and Beatles-esque?  Oof.  Not a good sound for Van Halen.  They’re a long way away from Panama with this one.  “Pigtails and painted toes, all dressed up in her mother’s clothes”.  Oh fuck this is bad.

Year to the Day– Opens with clean guitar and Gary’s falsetto.  Another weird ballad like the last one.  Picture ‘While My Guitar Gentle Weeps’ if it was totally awful and boring.  I can see, from the last couple songs, how Sammy would hear Eddie’s new stuff and say “Feets, don’t fail me now” and get the H out of Dodge.  It does have a bad ass screamy chorus, though.  “A year to the daaaaaaaaay…since you went awaaaaaaayyyy”.  So that’s something.  Then it goes on for nearly 9 minutes and you start staring at your phone.

Primary (Instrumental)– Random guitar solo track.  A Van Halen staple.  Awesome weird, somewhat bluesy slide sound to it too.  I’ll take it.  It leads right into the next one too.  Another Van Halen staple.

Ballot or the Bullet– Starts fast and then SORTA sounds like ‘House of Pain’ from 1984.  Similar groove anyway.  But with political lyrics.  Probably not something you’d want to hear in a Van Halen song.  Plus the chorus is pretty terrible.  Can we go back to that weird slide guitar?

How Many Say I– Eddie plays piano and sings lead on this one for some reason.  He’s not a good singer.  The intro is kind of nice, though.  Then the actual song starts and it’s just so weird and laughable. “How Many Say I” is just a bizarre turn of phrase too.  What does it mean?  What does any of it mean?  How did the band I loved as a pre-teen turn into THIS? This was most certainly weed induced.  I feel bad for the string section that’s in this for whatever reason.

……..

So yeah, overall, still not good.  But with a couple decent moments.

If you guys need me I’ll be cleansing the palate with Women and Children First.

Bullies and Nazis

​On bullies and Nazis…

In 5th grade I dealt with a bully.  This awful little punk ass named John Curly (yeah, “John Curly”.  Even his NAME was terrible).  He spent a good deal of time verbally abusing me, making fun of my braces, calling me every conceivable name in the book.  A couple of those names I later came to know as ethnic slurs.

This is decades before the time of zero tolerance.  So teachers took the “kids will be kids, what can you do?” hands-off stance.  They didn’t give a shit.  

My parents gave me the well-meaning advice of “Be the bigger man and walk away.  Don’t give him the satisfaction of responding to him.  He just wants attention.  Be better than him, Chris.”  

By the way, that advice didn’t work.  

One day I’m in the hallway and he comes walking after me, starting in with his usual verbal assault.  This time I was at the end of my rope and I finally had it.  At one point he’s directly behind me, basically screaming in my ear.  So I wheeled around and George McFly’d him right in his stupid little mouth.  Full on glorious movie punch.  Fist?  Meet face.

His hand went to his mouth and his eyes turned red and watery.  He started crying.  Then full on sobbing.  I walked off.  He tried running after me but I retaliated by shoving him down.  He was a lot weaker than he looked.  Or maybe I was just stronger than I realized.  I walked off again as he shouted after me, but I couldn’t hear him anymore.  A teacher eventually heard him screaming at me and sent him to the principal’s office.  

He never bothered me at all after that.  Or anyone else.  We definitely didn’t become friends but we learned to coexist on the playground at recess.  He seemed to know his place by this point.

Alt-right Nazi leader, Richard Spencer, getting punched in the face mid-hate speech at this weekend’s woman’s march made me think of this.  It’s a situation that really couldn’t have been dealt with any other way.  

Guys like Spencer and bullies like mine don’t respond to words.  That have no interest in learning how to be better.  And they sure don’t want to hear that kind of spiel from you or me.  They want to carry on unfettered and without consequence no matter who it negatively effects.  They need to be sent a message, loud and clear, that that is not going to happen on our watch.  And a strongly worded email or petition just plain isn’t going to do that.  

Nazis, like bullies, are there to incite violence and keep people scared and upset.  They work better when people are afraid of them.  Turning the other cheek and ignoring them doesn’t work, especially in the case of Nazis.  

Of course as a hardline rule I’m not a fan of violence.  It’s not the answer to every problem, etc.  We all know this as sensible people.  And it should be noted that Spencer was still standing after getting hit.  As was the bully I dealt with.  My bully seemed to have learned his lesson.  Did Spencer?  Guess we’ll see.

Nazis and bullies?  They deserve to get punched.  

Coltrane

“Well, let me put it this way…you ever been to the dentist?  Not me.  I suppose I should go to one, but I got enough pain in my life as it is.” – Bleeding Gums Murphy

When I really try to think about my earliest exposure to jazz, the Bleeding Gums Murphy episode of The Simpsons is what comes to mind.  I didn’t quite know what jazz was at that pre-teen point of my life.  I was familiar with the saxophone but that was about it.  Who in the 80’s wasn’t familiar with the sax?  I heard the sax on various Huey Lewis and The News songs and that one guy in The Lost Boys played a sax, but jazz as a music genre was still a foreign concept at that juncture.  

It wasn’t until high school that I discovered John Coltrane’s Giant Steps album (about the time I joined the high school’s jazz band, more on that another time).  A lot of people perhaps rightfully count A Love Supreme as his magnum opus but Giant Steps to me has this undeniable, spirited energy that is perfection to me.  

Every song is truly magnificent.  My favorite moment on the album is the intro to ‘Countdown’.  It starts with a loose drum solo.  And I mean LOOSE.  It almost sounds like they’re dragging the drum set across the studio floor.  This gives a sense of chaos that goes on for a little bit, just long enough for you to wonder what’s going on exactly.  Before you know it Coltrane drops in with this beautiful, razor sharp rapid-fire solo that blisters.  

My favorite Coltrane song though may have to be his version of ‘My Favorite Things’.  It’s a complete re imagining of the song from The Sound of Music.  In comparison to the original it’s instrumental and breezier.  And you don’t have to deal with the absurd lyrics.  But the melody is still there and it’s pushed properly to the forefront.

Coltrane is where it’s at.  If you have Amazon Prime there’s an absolute treasure trove of old jazz albums.  Best damn $99 a year I could spend.

Was Bleeding Gums Murphy a jazz guy or a blues guy?  I may have to go back and rethink my entire life now.

Insomnia Blues and Yet More 90’s Rock Reflections

It’s one of those nights where I wake up for no reason at 3am.  Good Lord, does it ever suck.  I’m sure it’s a combination of anxiety and just a general whatever else is going on in my life.  That recent bout of food poisoning I’m sure is also a culprit.  I have to play my guitar to calm me down and bring my head back down to earth and/or do breathing exercises. Anyway, good times. 

So right now I’m just listening to some music.  For some reason I had this weird urge to listen to “Another Body Murdered”, an early 90’s collaboration between rock metal masters Faith No More and hip hop group Boo Ya Tribe.  It contains the haunting piano, thrashing guitar and off-the-wall vocals that are part of Faith No More’s sound.  Except, ya know, with other people rapping over it. 

This was part of the soundtrack album to a movie called Judgement Night.  I don’t remember a whole lot about the movie itself.  Mainly just Jeremy Piven getting thrown off a roof (which going just off that makes it sound like a masterpiece).  And of course the soundtrack, which at the time, was a bit of an event as it featured collaborations between hip hop acts and rock and alternative bands at the time.  Rock and rap together were still a bit of a new concept.  So you had stuff like Slayer and Ice T, Helmet and House of Pain, Mudhoney and Six Mix-A-Lot, etc.  I remember me and my friends raving about it.  “Rap AND ROCK!  This is the future!”  I think of Limp Bizkit getting popular just a few years later and it makes me sad how right we were.

It’s kind of funny when a soundtrack outpaces the movie.  I think the Adventures Ford Fairlane soundtrack did the same thing. 

Also listened to Living Colour because it’s a 90’s kind of night.  “Cult of Personality” is the big hit everyone remembers but “Elvis is Dead” is probably my favorite.  It’s got all that AND a surprise saxophone solo.  And if that wasn’t enough it’s also got Little Richard.  That’s a pretty wonderful one-two surprise. 

The Time’s Up album as a whole features plenty of gems.  “Fight the Fight”, “Pride”, “Type”, “Solace of You” and of course “Love Rears Up its Ugly Head”.  Come to think of it THAT one may be a favorite.  See, this is why I can’t choose a favorite ANYTHING.  I’m too indecisive.  Plus, really, who cares?

Dammit, do I need to go back to sleep.  I have to wake up in two hours.

My punk phase, Steely Dan and Dominos pizza.

It’s sometime in the early ’90’s.  I’m in high school and in the midst of my punk phase where I was into music like Black Flag, The Ramones, Husker Du and the like.  Green Day and the Offspring were maybe a year or two away at that point and I’m sure you can imagine how much everyone getting into that “Keep ’em separated” song and body piercing annoyed me.  I generally keep a perspective of “music is music” but mall punk is, and always will be, for the birds.  I wanted the REAL shit.  Loud guitars, fast beats, Henry Rollins punching people.  Although I will say later on, when my dogmatic views on music stopped being so damn annoying, I grew to like Green Day.

Anyway, I saw an interview with Steve Jones, the guitar player from the Sex Pistols, in one of the many guitar magazines I read.  They asked him something along the lines of “Who are you rebelling against?”  And he said “Steely Dan.  Shit like that.” (please note I’m paraphrasing.  He may have said “shite”)  I remember also seeing an interview with Joey Ramone where he listed off bands that the Ramones were a reaction against.  Steely Dan was one of them.  So since my musical heroes at the time declared Steely Dan an enemy of the state I thought “Wow, they must be bad news if the dude from the Sex Pistols doesn’t dig them.”  Even though at the time I couldn’t tell you anything they did.  Keep in mind I was young and dopey.

Cut to today and I love Steely Dan.  The Aja album and Can’t Buy a Thrill discs are my current favorites.  Right now I’ve got the Aja album going in the background.  The songs are amazing and the musicianship is inconceivably tight.  Donald Fagen and Walter Becker are notorious for their perfectionism.  But so what?  The music is great.  It’s on a big scale.  And they get way more plays today then the Sex Pistols do.  Probably an age thing.

So ‘Do it Again’, easily one of my favorite tracks, is now going and I just finished off some leftover Dominos hand-tossed with bacon and mushrooms.  I’m looking into my kitchen and I see an empty Dominos box on top of another empty Dominos box.  I eat way too much of this shit.  I do love me some pizza, though.  And I shouldn’t like Dominos of all places but I can’t help it.  Local places are pretty much always better, but they don’t have a pizza tracker.

The Pizza Tracker!  I swear that goddamn thing is a work of art.  You keep track of your order step by step and let you know exactly when it’s out for delivery.  Basically it lets you know when you need to put pants on.  Because you’re about to have company.  I’ve learned in life that this always good information to have. Genius, I’m telling you.

‘Reeling in the Years’ is delightfully chugging along in the background.  Somewhere in my psyche there’s a teenage me that’s mad at the 30-something me.  And the 30-something me is telling the teenage me to calm the fuck down.  And help him eat some of this pizza.

Writing (sometimes) sucks

I’ve always had an odd relationship with the craft of writing.  On one hand I feel like I’m good at it.  I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer or the brightest light on the tree but I don’t feel I’ve ever had any kind of trouble articulating through print.  I can talk shop and crack wise and type the sweet every-loving mother fudge out of a work email.

But when it comes to writing stories and plotting out story ideas that I want to pursue I hit the wall.  It stops being expression and starts being homework.  Taking it that one step further brings out the frustration.

Songwriting comes easy to me.  You’re taking ideas and feelings and condensing them to 3 or 4 minutes.  And riffs and chords are easy to come up with usually.

I commend anyone that does this for a living because sometimes?  Damn.  It’s tough.  This is just my obstacle to get through.  No big thing.

Cuz I got ideas, man.   Hopefully I can work through the roadblocks and get something going.  Or I may just keep blogging.  Who knows?  😉

I ain’t stressin’. Cuz I’m Word Pressin’!

I started a WordPress blog for some reason.  I have a Tumblr blog (neridog.tumblr.com) but it’s always way too busy.  And porny.  Plus I just tried to update it and it froze.  Not impressed.  I may use this blog to blog and yammer like a mental patient.  This whole thing may begin and end with just this one post.  Who knows?  In any event, welcome.  Be excellent to each other.  And party on, dudes.