Eddie Van Halen, the Last Guitar Hero, has died, age 65, from a long battle with cancer. I will say now that EVH is the man most responsible for saving hard rock from withering away . His guitar innovations changed the way other guitarists approached the instrument. Although I had more or less graduated from rock and considered myself a jazz fan and amateur historian of same such music, and restricted my rock reviewing activities mostly to poets, auteurs with deep seated issues, Van Halen's albums were ones I didn't sell off or give away.
I realized years ago, when I was about to graduate to 60 years of existence, that the adult in me often enough needed not Mahler or Miles or Manheim Steamroller but instead give into the need to get up close and personal to guitar genius Eddie Van Halen as he took his zooming, strafing, dive bombing, hurly burly solo on the song "China Town" off the final Van Halen studio album A Different Kind of Truth . It was the usual brilliance from this musician, anchored in place with solid ensemble parts and one of the best rhythm sections in rock history, Eddie Van Halen doing tricks of the hard trade on the fret board; long , fluid lines, glass shattering squeals and screams with the whammy bar and foot pedals, fast, rapid, poised classical references liberally deployed with the standard and over-standard blues riffing, Van Halen was an instrumentalist of rare, rare skill , someone with an excitement factor that added up to the kind of amiable virtuosity that didn't age a bit. I am , of course, talking about his guitar work, which remained superb in his five decades as a band leader, and not the band's albums, more than a couple being routinely lunkheaded in the songwriting and frat boy world view. But that guitar playing!
The supposed requirement that I was to grow up finally at a certain time and act my age with more "age appropriate" music ( what? My parents Big Band collection? My Mom liked to listen to X) is a lie I told myself. I am acting my age and this shredding fete on the fret is age appropriate appropriate The riffs are fluid, flowing with the liquid clarity of an rapidly moving stream, a fluency accented with odd classical formations and post modern blues bends, sub-dominant notes pitched to the heavens. Speed, style, an instinct for getting to the essence of the implied emotional narrative an instrumental should have. This is exciting stuff. There are rock guitarists aplenty who have emerged in the wake of the revolution in technique Eddie Van Halen introduced in the mid seventies who are, maybe, maybe consistently faster, involve themselves in more complicated (as opposed to complex) expositions, but very few of them have EVH's freshness, his flawless instinct fills and suitably choked chords. He has the gift of knowing when to start a solo, and when to end it. He is the man to beat. So far, undefeated.
David Lee Roth on this disc did not have the range or vocal color he used to, he had from back in the day, talk-belting rasp and attitude for the outrageous accents EVH saturates this hook-happy tunes with. What impressed me the most was that this was a great album all the way through. The riffs are hooky, to say the least, the bridges go to places you wouldn't expect, the choruses are splendidly hummable. And Alex VanHalen and Wolfgang VH are a perfect rhythm section. Most of all, though, Eddie plays with an energy and ingenuity we haven't heard in years. It's his guitar work that attracts me to this band, the nasty, sexy, whammy bar -delineated solos that rise up in the full glory and quick witted élan of post-blues rock virtuosity.