Matthew F. Tritico
After David Lee Roth's departure from Van Halen in 1985, Sammy Hagar had to fill extremely big shoes, and he succeeded for over ten years. Now, hopefully three times is a charm.
Enter former Extreme vocalist Gary Cherone, the man who took Extreme's lullaby hit "More Than Words" to the top of the charts. There was more to Extreme and Cherone than syrupy ballads, but you never had a chance to hear that until now.
The album begins with a sweet instrumental piece called "Neworld" that has a nice balance of acoustic guitar by guitar maestro Eddie Van Halen and soothing piano by producer Mike Post. Soon after this peaceful intro calms your nerves, you're blown away by Eddie Van Halen's riff-roaring frenzy in the new single, "Without You." Eddie and Cherone shine with a driving rhythm, a sweet melody and a severely addictive chorus.
What follows is the funky and harmonious "One I Want," a throwback to early Van Halen that preaches a simple message with silly lyrics such as "Fat man, he ordering seconds / Pizza man, just wanna slice / Bad man, looking for attention / A good man, he's hard to find."
With the exception of "One I Want" and the melodic, just-in-lust fervor of "Dirty Water Dog," most of Cherone's lyrics range from love's lost and won on mediocre, but effective radio-friendly cuts such as "From Afar," "Once" and "Josephina." Cherone's voice echoes Hagar's, but that was probably unintentional. Cherone has strong pipes that blend well with the mix. If you're curious to hear what he's capable of, check out some of Extreme's albums.
Although he doesn't display his former Extreme talent on this album, Cherone makes a name for himself with a smooth blend of various styles that do separate him from Roth and Hagar.
There are two definite hard-rocking standouts on the album that give it an edge. They are the powerful and political "Ballot Or The Bullet," a song inspired by a speech from Malcolm X, and the blistering heat of "Fire In The Hole," a melodic gem that takes any die-hard Van Halen fan back in time with incredible axe work from Eddie. Both songs seem to share some of the six-string fever Eddie spread so furiously on the awesome 1981 album, Fair Warning.
Aside from "Ballot," Van Halen keeps the serious messages down to a minimum. After all, this is Van Halen, and having a good time is the main objective. Although it's a far stretch from the good-old, party-hearty rocking albums of the Diamond Dave days, Van Halen III is a must for any Van Halen fan. They had to mature, but they didn't forget how to have fun.