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Friday, September 24, 2010

Fair Warning- The Magnum Opus of Edward Van Halen




Many fans of Van Halen tend to put down Fair Warning, as it has nowhere near the amount of good time songs as the others. In fact, Fair Warning is the darkest album the band ever put out (unless you want to count VH III as being "dark" due to its being the group's nadir). I rate Fair Warning as the best Van Halen album, not just for its dark, heavy metal atmosphere, but also because it's both more of an Edward Van Halen album and takes more chances from a musical perspective than any of the others.

Several reviewers have looked upon Fair Warning as being reactionary, and for good reason. David Lee Roth seemed to dominate Van Halen's previous album, "Women and Children First", and Edward himself stated in interviews that Fair Warning was a bit like revenge for his relative sidekick status on WaCF . This may have contributed alot to Fair Warning's dark feel: the fact that Roth was more and more overbearing as the band progressively became more popular.

In any case, the album starts with Mean Streets, the prelude of that song being one of the most brilliant, innovative guitar pieces in guitar history. To hear it for the first time is to be completely thrown: virtually everyone I knew in the early '80's was amazed (and some actually disturbed) by this intro, to the point where we all wondered if it was really a guitar making those sounds. The description "ferociously original" fits here.

I have to mention Edward's interjectory guitar pops, squeals, slides, and other assorted jewels throughout the proceedings. He doesn't do a whole lot new in this area since the first album, but his ingenuity and creativity with the technique is, simply put, mind blowing here. In fact, it's safe to say that Edward's guitar personality reached full maturity on this album, there's no one that sounds exactly the way he did, just like there probably hasn't been anyone this original in Rock/Metal guitar since.

How many songs are there in the Rock canon like the borderline jazz bop of "Push Comes to Shove"? The solo alone on that track could be held up in college courses as a masterpiece in expressed personality in art. Quirky, eccentric, and yet somehow there's something very arcane in there. Makes you wonder at Edward's mental state at the time (ironically, he was in the process of getting married to a television star).

"Sinner's Swing" is about as violently heavy metal a track as Van Halen has recorded, and features one of the most "falling down the stairs and landing on your feet" solos as Ed's ever played. Some are very turned off by this type of reckless playing, but then this has been a part of Edward's style since the beginning: anyone who plays like this these days is immediately branded clone. To me, that proves its worth in gold.

Even the most invigorating track on Fair Warning, "Unchained", features a down tuned riff that helps the song fit perfectly into the oddly gothic feeling of the album; and, strangely enough, the blues cheering of "So This is Love" actually reinforces it. Check out how the ending of the latter seems to somehow segue perfectly into the synthesized doom metal double shot of "Sunday Afternoon in the Park" and "One Foot Out the Door". Total sludge, and so totally not Van Halen the band, but almost certainly Edward Van Halen the man.

To me, the music of Fair Warning is a bit like a tone painting of its album cover: at times horrifically ugly, bleak, violent, horribly frustrated. Customized to fit Edward Van Halen's complex personality.

This is an essential purchase, especially if you're into Rock and Heavy Metal guitar.