Sunday, February 12, 2012


(c)1998 Warner Bros.
  1. Neworld
  2. Without You
  3. One I Want
  4. From Afar
  5. Dirty Water Dog
  6. Once
  7. Fire In The Hole
  8. Josephina
  9. Year To The Day
  10. Primary
  11. Ballot Or The Bullet
  12. How Many Say I
Eddie Van Halen--Guitars, Keyboards,Bass, Lead and Backing Vocals
Gary Cherone--Lead Vocals
Michael Anthony--Bass, Backing Vocals
Alex Van Halen--Drums, Backing Vocals

After getting a chance to live with the new Van Halen album, A Different Kind Of Truth for a while now, I thought I would dig into the band's back catalog a bit and review some of their older material.  Oddly, I chose to start with the band's least popular, most maligned album ever recorded, 3.  I will be the first to admit I disliked this album so much when I got it that I actually shelved it for probably two solid years.  To give myself the chance to write a true and honest review, I pulled it out again recently and gave it several spins and was extremely surprised to find that I don't hate this album nearly as much as I once thought.  I'm not going to say I love it...I don't even know that I would go so far as to say I like it very much...but I certainly don't hate it.

The more I have listened to it, the more it sounds like a natural progression from the Sammy Hagar years of the band.  Perhaps that's the problem I have always had with it; 3 sounds like Van Hagar album with Gary Cherone on vocals...doing his best Sammy Hagar impersonation.  I took me the better part of three years to accept Sammy as the new voice of Van Halen (I still don't care for much of the first three Van Hagar albums), but    by the time For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge and Balance rolled around, I really liked what the band was doing.  But when Sammy was out and it was teased that David Lee Roth would be back, I thought that would be a really great thing, as I love that version of the band.  When that fell apart and Cherone was chosen as the next vocalist, I have to say I was extremely (no pun intended) excited.  I LOVE the work Cherone did with Extreme and I thought he could bring a fresh sound and perhaps writing perspective to the band.  But it's like Gary was never given a chance to succeed.  It is really odd to hear the way Cherone approaches some of these songs because it doesn't even sound like him in several places.  Perhaps if Eddie had allowed Gary to sing like he does with Extreme this would have been a better album overall and would have been treated better by fans of the band.  My guess is yes, but obviously we will never know.

The sound of the album, musically, is not really all that different than the last two Hagar albums (Unlawful and Balance).  The songs alternate between guitar-driven hard rockers and more keyboard-laden ballads.  There are a couple of things that differentiate this album from anything else the band has done, however.  First, these songs have a definite alternative rock vibe to them at times, especially in the production.  The themes tend to be a bit darker, less, for a lack of a better term, hair band anthems about partying and chicks, and the fun sound of the DLR era is definitely gone by now.  Also, some of these songs run considerably longer than a lot of the older VH material, which again goes along with the more alternative vibe and darker themes.  One other thing that really sets this album apart is the fact that Eddie steps up to the mic as the lead singer on one track, which is also the most unusual track on the disc.  Album closer, "How Many Say I", is a piano-based acoustic ballad that is unlike anything Van Halen has tried in any other incarnation.  For my money, it's not a particularly great song and, well, let's just be glad that Eddie recognized his skill as a guitar player and has always had lead singers to handle the front-man spot.  The other big thing, at least for fans of the band, is the fact that Michael Anthony steps away from the group during this album, playing on only three songs, with Eddie handling the rest of the bass.  The bass playing isn't what is noticeable, but Anthony's vocal harmonies are missed, I think.  I'm not sure if it's coincidence or not, but the three songs Anthony plays on are also the three tracks that were released as singles from this album:  "Without You", "Fire In The Hole", and "One I Want".

Even after giving it another shot, and being prepared to admit it is not as horrible as I had initally categorized it as, the plain and simple fact is that 3 really isn't that memorable.  There are no classic hooks, no scorching solos, and no real  arena anthems like the band had been noted for throughout its history.  Maybe this was intentional; I don't know.  The three singles did chart fairly well, with all three going Top 30 on the rock charts, and "Without You" actually topped the rock charts for a few weeks in 1998.  Even with this success though, Van Halen chose to completely ignore this album when they released their career retrospective collection Best Of Both Worlds (maybe it's because they didn't have a song called "Best Of All Three Worlds"...).

The thing is, with the reunited Roth era lineup (minus Anthony, who continues to play with Sammy Hagar's band), and the excellent return disc A Different Kind of Truth, this album is going to slip farther and farther from people's mind, and maybe that's a reasonable thing to have happen.  As a co-worker friend of mine told me when we were talking about this album the other day, there is just nothing that connects people to this album.  The debate will likely rage for as long as people listen to hard rock over whether the Roth-era or the Hagar-era was the best span of time for one of the greatest hard rock bands in music history (we all know Roth is the answer, by the way).  But I highly doubt that Cherone's effort will ever even be mentioned in the debate.  Incidentally, there has been a rumor for many years now that Van Halen actually recorded a second album with Cherone but the horrible reviews and poor sales of 3 caused the band to shelve it.  Personally, I would hope that at some time that album might see the light of day, just to see if the band overcame the depths that most people think 3 took them down to.

Bottom line...3 isn't terrible, it just isn't memorable and Eddie sounds tired and like he is no longer having fun. I can say it won't be two or three years before I pull this out again, but I'm not going to be spinning it on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis, either.

Rating:  Turn this down to a 4.5, but consider pulling a couple of tracks off of it to put on your iPod or mp3 player to mix in with the other, classic material...and the new album, of course.

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