Mastered from the original analog master tapes and housed in mini-LP-style packaging, Mobile Fidelity's numbered-edition hybrid SACD reissue allows fans to experience Van Halen's original blend of raw power, Hollywood flair, and vaudeville fun for generations to come. Playing with reference-setting sonics that elevate a 10-times-platinum landmark whose importance cannot be quantitatively measured, this definitive digital version provides a clear, clean, transparent, balanced, and turn-the-volume-up-to-11 view of an album that birthed entirely new styles.
Indeed, could a piece of music that transformed how countless guitarists approached their instrument be more fittingly named than "Eruption"? Likely not, and in just 102 seconds, Eddie Van Halen rewrote, reimagined, and reconfigured a vocabulary last significantly updated a decade earlier by fellow six-string wizard Jimi Hendrix. Akin to the Washington State legend, Eddie Van Halen developed his own techniques and tones all the while making his seismic accomplishments seem effortless. Devoid of the pretense, ego, and showiness that infected many of his imitators, the Dutch native sticks to a straightforward approach that underlines the authority, prowess, and visionary scope of his playing and then-unheard-of finger-tapping skills. Throughout Van Halen, he establishes himself as an instant idol—a savant whose otherworldly combination of breadth, poise, feel, speed, force, and melody seems beamed in from another galaxy.
As does nearly every song on the record, whose cohesiveness and dynamic put into perspective the advanced chemistry and one-for-all spirit the youthful band had out of the gates. Having paid its dues for years in bars and clubs—going as far as recording a 24-track demo for Kiss bassist Gene Simmons at Village Recorders only to be spurned by management companies that felt its music wouldn't go anywhere—Van Halen finally got a deserved break when Warner Bros. executives signed the group in 1977. The subsequent recording sessions further testify on behalf of the band's synergy and alignment. Completed in just a few weeks with producer Ted Templeman, Van Halen was primarily cut live in the studio with minimal overdubs and edits. The explosiveness, energy, and electricity remain definitive, and as heard on this UD1S set, put the group on a private stage—humming amplifiers, Frankenstrat guitar, bright spotlights, sweaty headbands, and then some.
Van Halen yielded just one hit in the form of a Top 40 single (a breathless cover of the Kinks' "You Really Got Me") but practically every song on the revered LP has become a staple. Named the 202nd Greatest Album of All Time by Rolling Stone and considered by countless experts as one of the best debuts in history, the record displays what can happen with four distinct talents gel and strive for the same purposes. In Van Halen's case, the latter almost always involved partying, freedom, sex, and, in the immortal words of singer David Lee Roth, living "life like there's no tomorrow." The celebration manifests from the opening notes of the strutting "Runnin' with the Devil"—announced with the blare of droning car horns, Michael Anthony's robust bass line, and Alex Van Halen's thumping drumming—and continues through the conclusion of the white-hot "On Fire," goosed by Eddie Van Halen's race-track-ready lines, Roth's flamboyant deliveries, and the rhythm section's cat-like pounce.
Picking out individual highlights on Van Halen is akin to trying to count all the stars in a clear nighttime desert sky: There are far too many to identify, once you see one you notice another dozen you didn't spot before, and the cluster is best enjoyed as a whole. What's evident over repeat listens is the sheer diversity, a fact that's often overlooked: The high harmonies and background funk of "Jamie's Cryin'"; the insistent cane-and-a-tophat shuffle and doo-wop shoo-bop vocal break on "I'm the One"; the throwback acoustic blues that spreads into fast-paced, single-entendre wildfire on the Roth-led standout interpretation of John Brim's "Ice Cream Man."