Released: 2004, Warner Borthers
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
After seven years, Van Halen are finally back. Marking the reunion with Sammy Hagar and coinciding with their sold-out U.S. tour, Warner Brothers has released a new greatest hits package entitled THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS. While the band released the single CD, BEST OF VOLUME 1, back in 1996, THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS goes above and beyond what that release offered. True to its title, the best songs from the David Lee Roth years (1978-1984) and the Sammy Hagar years (1986-1996)—songs from the VAN HALEN 3 debacle with Extreme’s Gary Cherone on vocals are thankfully absent—fans are treated to two and half hours and 36 songs of pure VH spread over two CDs. While this sounds like a dream come true for many, the inclusion of some songs and the omission of others humble what could have been an otherwise stellar package.
There is no denying the fact that Van Halen has recorded some of the greatest and best-known hard rock songs of the last three decades. Eddie Van Halen has influenced guitarists the world over with his axe wizardry and solo prowess. Michael Anthony’s thumping bass and wailing vocal harmonies make many of their songs instantly recognizable. With the exception of the lead vocalist position, Van Halen has remained a steady lineup since their first album was released in 1978—not a small task. The music of Van Halen is perfect for a long drive, a good BBQ party or just plain rockin’ out. The hits included in this package are numerous (“Jump,” “Panama,” “Why Can’t This Be Love,” “Right Now”), while some of the lesser-known cuts (“Poundcake,” “Black and Blue,” “Dance the Night Away”) will please any VH die-hard. There are some peculiarities, though. “Finish What Ya Started” cuts off rather suddenly instead of fading out as the original from 1988’s OU812 does (apparently it was intentional). Also, why is “Dancing in the Street” and “Not Enough” on here? These were neither hits, nor are they embraced by Van Halen fans as essential songs.
A nice treat are the three new songs recorded by the band after their reunion was announced. “It’s About Time” opens with a raunchy, downtuned riff that sounds like nothing Eddie Van Halen has ever laid down. The lyrics are autobiographical of sorts, with the band saying they’re back and are sorry for being away for so long (where is the apology for Gary Cherone?!?!?). If it’s possible to plagiarize yourself, Van Halen does it on “Up For Breakfast,” which begins with almost EXACTLY the same synth intro as “Why Can’t This Be Love.” This song is the best of the three new recordings with its overtly sexual lyrics (“She puts the cream in my coffee/First thing in the morning/I’ve got butter on my biscuit/Honeydew my melon”) and incredibly catchy chorus. “Learning To See” opens promisingly enough but Hagar’s influence seeps in quickly and the power ballad mushiness of the verses brings down the energy in a big way. Like “It’s About Time,” “Learning To See” seems like pieces of several songs that have been patched together from ideas brought to the table by the band in a rush. The choruses don’t match the verses and the solos seem oddly out of place. Curiously, Michael Anthony is absent from the songwriting credits of the three new tracks, as well. With the exception of Eddie’s solo pieces, EVERY original Van Halen song ever done has been credited to all of the band members. Hmmm.
My main complaint with this package is the inclusion of three live songs in place of what I feel are serious omissions. Where are "Ice Cream Man," “Cabo Wabo,” “Atomic Punk,” “Hear About It Later,” “Mean Street,” “Don’t Tell Me,” or “D.O.A.”? Even “Me Wise Magic” from BEST OF VOLUME 1 could have found a home here. Instead, three live tracks from 1993’s LIVE: RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW are included. Most frustratingly, why were three songs chosen that already appear in their original form? I have been a Van Halen fan for twenty years and love (almost) everything they have ever done, but in all honestly, I have not listened to my copy of LIVE: RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW since I bought it 11 years ago. Instead of even adding one song from VAN HALEN 3, were they that desperate to erase any memory of the Cherone era that they thought, “Fuck it…let’s just stick live versions of ‘Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,’ ‘Panama’ and ‘Jump’ on instead”?
For 90% of the people out there, THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS is the ultimate Van Halen collection. Every hit single is included and nearly every good song from their back catalogue is here, too. For the casual fan or someone just jumping in the Van Halen waters, this package would earn full marks. However the more discerning fan will find the same glaring holes in this collection that I have. THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS is not perfect but it is pretty damn close.
KILLER KUTS: Where do I begin?!?!?!