Mastered from the original analog tapes and housed in a mini-LP gatefold sleeve, Mobile Fidelity's numbered-edition hybrid SACD of Van Halen II lets it all hang out. The five-times-platinum record now sounds like Van Halen intended — that of music recorded live in one big room, Marshall amplifiers turned all the way up, and resonating with the purity, excitement, and interaction of three instruments and voices. Created with minimal overdubs and afforded massive dynamics, air-moving energy, and palpable solidity on this audiophile edition, Van Halen II is rock 'n' roll at its most direct, straightforward, taut, and electric. Every track pulses with what Eddie Van Halen once referred to as a "vibe, feeling, and pocket" that only these four individuals could establish and maintain.
Indeed, if ever there was an indication of the spirit and enthusiasm ready to leap from a record, it's the photo montage that originally graced the album's back cover. Captured in mid-flight, legs splayed so wide the tips of his feet approach the height of his shoulders, Roth somehow still clutches the microphone stand all the while remaining unconcerned with how his body could possibly stick a safe landing — especially since he's wearing Capezio dance shoes. The reward for his to-hell-with-consequences stunt: A broken foot and a classic inner-sleeve shot of him standing, cane in hand, as attending nurses come to his aid.
Roth and his mates approach every cut on Van Halen II with like-minded vibrancy, animation, humor, and bravado. Featuring more subtleties than the group's powerhouse debut, and fuller and smoother tones, the material reflects Van Halen's soaring confidence and standout musicianship. Van Halen II also puts a brighter spotlight on the still-underrated abilities of Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony, both of whom stand on equal footing with their more celebrated colleagues. Not that Eddie Van Halen or Roth take a breather.
Introduced with a clinking cowbell and pneumatic riffs that seemingly float on air, the irresistibly catchy and feel-good sway "Dance the Night Away" serves as a benchmark of the one-for-all, all-for-one mentality behind Van Halen II. Arena-bound hooks and pop melodies also emerge on "Beautiful Girls," a hit whose upbeat sound mirrors its subject matter — and which crystallizes the band's unique blend of surf-and-sun California temperament and virtuosic technicality. Roth's rhymed couplets, shoobee-doobee harmonies, and shuck-and-jive deliveries make evident his expert showmanship and desire to entertain. In a brilliant move, the tune also frames the group's famed debauchery and sexual swagger in understated fashion.
There's nothing downplayed about the crunchy, swinging, high-times-are-here-again rush of "Somebody Get Me a Doctor," whose thick, leathery guitar foundation and freewheeling solo — which earns Eddie Van Halen applause from his cohorts — reflect the non-commercial overdrive and progressive force that define a majority of Van Halen II. For further evidence, cue up the rhythmic stop-and-start conflagration that is "Light up the Sky" and dive-bombing "D.O.A." The latter comes complete with blazing Eddie Van Halen passages whose mean-streak attitude is in line with the song's punk-reared thrust, outlaw blues, and fugitive mood.
Van Halen II also proves the band reached a crucial point where it could both crack jokes and laugh at itself. See "Women in Love…," prefaced by Eddie Van Halen's clean and gentle harmonic-based intro, and boogie-laden "Bottoms Up!," riding atop Alex Van Halen's bounding percussion and the group's trademark splashy harmonies. You can hear the laughter and practically see Roth and Anthony losing it as Eddie Van Halen launches six-string rockets into outer space.
In a turn of pace, the guitarist picked up a nylon-stringed Ovation acoustic to record "Spanish Fly." Every bit as revolutionary and dizzying as "Eruption" on Van Halen, the instrumental finds him channeling flamenco strains into what Roth properly called "a wall socket. In the middle it sounds like someone speeded up the album to 45 all the sudden, but this guy does it live." That he did, Diamond Dave. That he did.