Tuesday, April 14, 2015


Today marks the 33rd anniversary of the release of Diver Down. Van Halen's fifth LP in a four year span was greeted with mixed reviews back in '82. Granted, no one was looking for a grand statement from the quartet nor was their fan base scouring the contents for hidden messages.

Hey, wait a minute! Play it backwards, man...

Though admittedly not a lyricist of consequence, David Lee Roth did liken the cover art to clever subterfuge on the part of his band. To wit, what is going on beneath the surface isn't readily apparent to the observer. Let's take this thought down a fathom or two further, gentle reader. Van Halen offered up entertainment on a grand scale. Roth played the hyper, over-caffenated ring master with a wink, always delivering on the promise of a party. This leering veneer masked a far more substantial thought process. The Van Halen brothers themselves were (and are) prodigiously gifted musicians who played up their swaggering, beer guzzling onstage personas. Michael Anthony rounded this out with his flawless harmonies, precision playing, though fans focused on his propensity for chugging Jack Daniels rather than his low-end fretwork. Eddie Van Halen had the touch of Paganini, wanted to widen the scope of what the group could do and wade into more serious compositional waters. Playing to type was expected, fun beckoned and Diver Down was recorded quickly with covers taking as much space on the record as original material.

Flash and substance meet in a duel and agree to disagree.

Once again they dig into the Kinks catalog for the opener ("Where Have All the Good Times Gone"), knock a Roy Orbison classic out of the park by virtue of their inspired, muscular playing ("(Oh) Pretty Woman") and "Big Bad Bill" best illustrates what I was alluding to in my scattershot opening thought (scroll back up a bit). The lads display a wealth of taste and chops, with zero pyrotechnics and a side of clarinet courtesy of Jan Van Halen.

With me so far?

"Hang 'Em High" and "Secrets" are my personal favourites, featuring all of the heavy and melodic elements that made these guys so compelling. Classic rock radio programmers have, mercifully, managed to avoid bashing these selections into the ground, which is another plus. If you aren't convinced of the genius that Eddie possesses, take "Cathedral" and the intro to "Little Guitars" into your brain. These brief, complex interludes have the effect of a quick, cool breeze on a sweltering day. Just a taste that leaves you wanting a bit more. Gathering around the campfire mic to dash off "Happy Trails" in four part harmony, they break down in fits of laughter and provide the perfect ending to an eclectic selection of tunes. The only track that could have been ditched is "Dancing in the Street" which is uncharacteristically turgid. Despite all efforts to inject some excitement, only Alex really shows up on this one.

Diver Down is an inspired charmer, very easy to digest and smartly brings back some silliness into the mix after the serious tones of Fair Warning. Overall, the set has aged well and really deserves much better than the poor notices that it has attracted. If they had spent more time on the project, there is a good chance that the spontaneity would have been sacrificed in favour of overthinking. Well deserving of another spin at 33 (and a third).

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