Album review: Van Halen, 5150 (1986)


By Steve Newton

One of the most talked about lineup changes in rock these days involves Van Halen’s switch from David Lee Roth to Sammy Hagar. “Nobody could replace Diamond Dave”, said some, while others pointed to the fine work Hagar did with influential metal band Montrose. Well the verdict is now in. Hagar fits perfectly into the band, and 5150 has some very strong moments. But it could have been more consistent.

The album opens with Hagar’s “Roth-like” come-on, “Hello, baaaaaby!“, and rips into the feverish rocker “Good Enough”. With Eddie tearing off raucous chords and whammy-bar freakouts, Hagar wails away, and they turn the song into a “Panama” for 1986. It’s a killer.

Things mellow out a bit for “Why Can’t This Be Love”, the album’s first single, then get raunchy again on “Get Up”, a garbled attempt to capture the frenzied, go-for-broke effect of 1984‘s “Top Jimmy”. It’s the weakest track on the album, but the next one, “Dreams”, more than makes up for it. Searing melodies and a sturdy backbeat combine in the most uplifting song the band has ever done. It would appear that Hagar’s lyrical contributions have given the band a more positive, less macho touch than Diamond Dave did.

Side one ends on a strong note with “Summer Nights”, a hard-edged strut that’s a showcase for Eddie’s dangerous noodlings. But apart from “Love Walks In”, side two is a disappointment. Songs like “Inside” and the title track are bland and uninspired.

As for the title, 5150 is not the album’s catalog number, as with Yes’s 90125. 5150 is the studio that it was recorded at. And supposedly 5150 is also the police code for maniac on the loose.


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