Fair Warning

Van Halen Fair WarningEvery album Van Halen released between 1978 and 1984 had at least a couple of cuts that sent guitar players back to the woodshed asking themselves, “HOW DID HE DO THAT?” 1981’s Fair Warning was no exception, starting right off on the first song,Mean Street, with it’s screaming, syncopated tapped harmonic intro. There was the Allan Holdsworth-esque solo on Push Comes to Shove and 3 awesome-riff songs in dropped-D tuning; Hear About It Later, Sinner’s Swing and Unchained. All of the technique that EVH had pioneered on the previous three albums had become one big way of playing that he worked it to the performance of a song, depending on the feel. Also, keyboards made their debut on the very loony Sunday Afternoon in the Park. This was the first Van Halen record that wasn’t a non-stop party; there is some refection and darkness throughout as if maybe the band was quietly feeling the effects of the previous years of 10 months on the road and all that entails.

There was also something new for a Van Halen record; a whole lotta overdubbing going on. There is also a very dark maturity to this record. In interviews, EVH said later that he lost a bunch of weight and nearly drove himself crazy getting the disc together and it is very much HISrecord. While it may be hard to say any Van Halen record topped Van Halen 1 for complete over-the-top impressiveness and an awesome line-up of songs, this disc gets the closest and probably is more indicative of what became of the rest of the band’s career. Given what Edward said about it in various interviews, it was probably the beginning of the end of the first line-up and also his first brush with the fragility of his sanity. Neither he nor his band have ever repeated what was done on Fair Warning, and that’s kind of a shame, because had they been able to do it in a healthy, positive way, it could’ve signaled an interesting change in career direction. I can feel that neither the following year’s Diver Down, nor the much celebrated 1984 were as tight as this record. Edward’s playing especially veers toward the sloppy and weird instead of the tightness that is found on Fair Warning. That’s why I think it is a highpoint of his career.