Part Borsch belt, part Baryshnikov, David Lee Roth is hard rock's greatest entertainer. Man, myth, mountain climber he's created a frontman fantasy that makes Mick Jagger look like Mickey Mouse and a hysterical pop parody that makes Spinal Tap come off like drawing-room drama. Anyone who doesn't like him simply doesn't get the joke. Unfortunately, he should be seen, not heard.
Despite the inspired choice of charismatic sidemen Steve Vai and Billy Sheehan, the video images that accompanied his first solo album were more memorable than most of the tunes. And without the sympathetic direction of longtime producer Ted Templeman, the follow-up, Skyscraper, underscores the limitations of both Roth's singing and his career. As he heads toward Hair Club for Men, the Big Dave stud routine that turned him into a teen hero is getting old, but Roth's never sounded particularly convincing doing anything else.
Not that he isn't trying. "Skyscraper," built on a solid bass foundation, is an admirable stretch, but Roth just doesn't have the range as a singer or lyricist to transform what was probably a genuine and breathtaking real-life experience into a soaring cut (the annoying echo on his vocals doesn't help, either). And where Huey Lewis (whom he seems to be imitating here) could effortlessly put over a blatant commercial ploy like "Just Like Paradise," goopy backgrounds and all, Roth develops a sincerity crisis. Likewise on "Damn Good" (about Eddie and the boys?), in which Dave tramples Steve Vai's stairway-to-heavenly guitar on the way down memory lane.
Maybe the class clown is just outclassed on record by his band. Maybe Roth is too damn smart to keep playing dumb. Does it matter? What red-blooded fourteen-year-old will resist the wiseass appeal of "The Bottom Line"? And what listener won't figure out that Skyscraper is as good an excuse as any to get the show back on the road? (RS 522)
(Posted: Mar 24, 1988)
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