Contrary to appearances, David Lee Roth is no dummy. While many expected him to go totally Hollywood and outcamp Crazy from the Heat on his first full solo LP, Dave smartly decided to try to reconstruct the axe-wielding crunch of vintage Van Halen. By aiming for kick-rock credibility, Roth was obviously helping his cartoon image regain some edge, but there was an obstacle to be overcome. Namely, how to recreate Van Halen's full metal throttle without the inimitable Eddie.
Amazingly, Roth has come up with an impressive likeness of his former partner in ex-Zappa fret man Steve Vai. The guitarist takes his cues from Eddie's loop-the-loop style, but, importantly, he adds some wild dips of his own. He's not simply aping Eddie, he's also embellishing. Likewise, Vai's musical rapport with Roth mirrors Van Halen's, and that relationship, as usual, defines much of the material.
In the strictest metal tradition, many tracks are just frenzied riffs with Roth rapping on top. And surprisingly enough, there's nothing here as slick as the two singles on Van Halen's post-Roth LP. Luckily, Vai's guitar work provides a rough enough roller-coaster ride to counter the lack of more melodic hooks. "Elephant Gun" and "Bump and Grind" present a convincing case for metal retardation, and even Vai's more "sophisticated" jazzy blues jaunts in "Ladies' Nite in Buffalo?" and "I'm Easy" score.
Of course, Dave's goofball persona should not be underestimated. Just because only two tracks on the LP are textbook camp ("I'm Easy" and "That's Life"), that doesn't mean Roth has any intention of playing the rest straight. In fact, Roth seems to have taken up the challenge from replacement shouter Sammy Hagar to enter into a full-scale battle of the bozos.
In cuts like the metallically catchy "Yankee Rose," he mauls more scenery than ever, and every punch line hits just right. Throughout the album, in fact, the giggles just keep comin', but it's important to note that Roth's life-of-the-party routine works only because his comedic timing is so dead-on. Undemeath there's no real character. Call him a ham without wry. True, his sexism isn't hateful like Hagar's, and his surface sense of camp is admirable given his macho milieu. But his persona lacks the vulnerability to give him any kind of depth.
Of course, what kind of depth can you expect from a guy who dresses like an African Carmen Miranda on his album cover? Clearly Dave and his new band just want to have trashy fun. On this album, they're having more than their share, and those who listen to Eat 'Em and Smile are invited to have some, too. (RS 482)
(Posted: Sep 11, 1986)
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