Van Halen “Diver Down” by Adam McCann
Warner Bros Records 1982
Van Halen achieved fame on the back of electrifying live performances through the virtuosity of guitarist Edward Van Halen who pioneered the tapping technique and the roguishly good looking charms of vocalist David Lee Roth. Quickly snapped up by Warner Bros. Records, Van Halen released a steady stream of albums under the guiding hand of legendary producer Ted Templeman. The studio antics of Van Halen soon became somewhat something of an inside joke as the band would frequently turn up to recording sessions with only fragments of material and unfinished jams. Yet on the back of some hugely successful singles, Van Halen managed to continue to hump their way across the globe and to become the biggest band in the world.
By 1982, Van Halen had reached their pinnacle of excess; sex, drugs, booze and endless partying was now the norm and when the band presented what would be their fifth studio album to Warner Bros., it would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall in that boardroom. After months of Warner Bros. asking when will the album be ready, Van Halen brought an album of which nearly half was cover songs with the rest of album split between short instrumentals and original material. This album would become ‘Diver Down’.
Regardless of the content, Warner Bros. went ahead with the release of ‘Diver Down’ which was unfortunately also coupled with an equally crap album cover – the flag used in maritime to signal that a diver is in the area below, although, you can’t help wondering whether this is construed to be some sort of innuendo to the excess of the time.
As a band, Van Halen are no stranger to covers and David Lee Roth high kicks ‘Diver Down’ into action with a cover of The Kinks’ ‘Where Have All the Good Times Gone!’, which is hardly surprising, Van Halen cut their teeth on the circuit in California in the mid-70’s playing covers of the 60’s British Invasion artists and although Van Halen approach ‘Where Have All the Good Times Gone!’ with the level of professionalism of a band who knows the song inside out and can perform it blindfolded.
In fact, this emphasis on the professionalism transposes to a few of the other covers here, you get the feeling that Van Halen are just having fun with the likes of ‘(Oh) Pretty Woman’ originally recorded by the late Roy Orbison, as Edward Van Halen gives the famous riff the same twist and courtesy that the young hot shot gave ‘You Really Got Me’ from Van Halen’s self-titled debut. This fun extends wholly into a cover of ‘Dancing In The Street’ originally recorded by Martha and the Vandellas back in 1964 and alongside clear piss takes such as ‘Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)’ and ‘Happy Trails’ showing that Van Halen clearly have a sense of humour and are thoroughly enjoying what they’re doing.
Edward Van Halen is obviously very talented musician, not just at the guitar, but he is also adept at playing multiple instruments, but the short instrumentals on ‘Diver Down’ really do sully the album and the best thing about them is that they’re over before you get chance to get up and hit the skip button. Fortunately, the woeful instrumentals are saved by the songs which don’t involve Edward Van Halen fucking around on the synthesiser, ‘Hang ‘Em High’, ‘Little Guitars’ and ‘The Full Bug’ show that Van Halen hadn’t completely lost the plot, the latter song in particular has an absolutely fantastic guitar riff which shows the direction that Van Halen would head for their smash hit ‘1984’.
‘Diver Down’ is actually quite a lot of fun, it will never fail to bring a smile to your face as Van Halen smash out a song as a barbershop quartet, but it is also the sound of a band going through motions, treading water and keeping afloat under pressure from the record company to deliver the next hit. What Van Halen needed was some time off to recuperate and ‘Diver Down’ is a snapshot in time of that very moment and should always be taken at face value as Van Halen clearly take the piss as Warner Bros. package it up and sell it. 65/100
Adam McCann / MHF Magazine