Van Halen – Best of Both Worlds Review

Van Halen The Best Of Both Worlds
Warner, 2004

Track List:
1. Eruption
2. It’s About Time
3. Up For Breakfast
4. Learning To See
5. Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love
6. Finish What Ya Started
7. You Really Got Me
8. Dreams
9. Hot For Teacher
10. Poundcake
11. And the Cradle Will Rock
12. Black and Blue
13. Jump
14. Top of the World
15. (Oh) Pretty Woman
16. Love Walks In
17. Beautiful Girls
18. Can’t Stop Lovin’ You
19. Unchained
20. Panama
21. Best of Both Worlds
22. Jamie’s Cryin’
23. Runaround
24. I’ll Wait
25. Why Can’t This Be Love
26. Runnin’ With the Devil
27. When It’s Love
28. Dancing in the Street
29. Not Enough
30. Feels So Good
31. Right Now
32. Everybody Wants Some!!
33. Dance the Night Away
34. Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love (live)
35. Panama (live)
36. Jump (live)

Back in 1996, Van Halen fans were treated to Best of, Vol. 1. And while this was very nice of the band to finally come around and make a compilation, it was so sparse that one couldn’t just set their old VH albums aside and rely on the disc for a big-hits fix. Never mind that you had to skip over “Humans Being” and the horrible new tracks reunited with David Lee Roth. Something had to be done, but would a Vol. 2 be the answer?

This does not matter anymore. Cancel out Vol. 1; it never existed.

Maybe it was Eddie’s cancer; maybe it was the multitudinous hirings/firings/reunitings/disbandings; maybe it was the bankroll factor; maybe someone just woke up and saw what the fans wanted. Regardless, someone out there woke up and filled the biggest void in Van Halen’s catalog. “Hot For Teacher” rightfully gets included with the rest of their best, and “Humans Being” gets the outs. Up and down the list of the older compiled tracks, there’s not many to truly argue about as far as worthiness or its choice for inclusion over another track. It’s solid and exactly what sells.

Included as well are three new tracks with Hagar at the helm. The clear standout is “It’s About Time,” which has been rocking my local radio station and sounds much more like For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge-era than Balance while managing to not sound outdated. On the flipside, however, “Up For Breakfast” attempts classic dirty, double-entendred Van Halen (think “Ice Cream Man”), but almost seems to be trying too hard and lacks the magical glue to make it stick in your head. Last we have “Learning To See,” a schizophrenic song that can’t decide if it’s going to be blasting hard-rock or sensitive ballad, with Hagar’s vocals sounding like someone stuffed a meat grinder down his throat. While the balance of one great new track, one medicore, and one awful addition to the mix, it’s still better than the reunited-with-Roth tunes from Vol. 1.

As another bonus, three live tracks are tacked onto the end: all Roth-era tunes performed with Hagar. If there’s one thing that most Van Halen fans know, Roth’s tunes simply sound better with Roth, period. His vocal style has always been delivered with a swagger and sexual undertone, where Hagar can’t help but always sound like “hey guys, it’s a party and I’m the party man!” But even if that quality doesn’t turn off a listener, one listen to the live version of “Panama” and Hagar’s stage banter will force en masse diving to flip the disc to the next track. Please, Mr. Hagar, you are not a great philosopher. You are a singer and manufacturer of fine tequila. No more life advice, I beg of you!

One other major issue with Best of Both Worlds is simply the order of the tracks involved. Great, so we have the best represented; would it be too much to ask to run them chronologically? It may be nice to mix up Roth and Hagar for variety, but the truth is, the older tracks show recording and production style age when scattered among many newer songs. It’s the nature of technological growth when you’re spanning more than fifteen years — remix all you like, but in 1979, nothing sounded remotely slick. Going from “Can’t Stop Loving You” to “Unchained” is enough to make a person gasp outloud.