Van Halen | The Collection II – Box Set Review

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In the early 80s, Van Halen were one of the biggest bands on the planet. Unfortunately, like so many before and since, one of the band’s members — specifically singer David Lee Roth — developed a massive ego and decided to go it alone. With the release of his first couple of solo efforts, it looked like Roth may have made the right decision. Then Van Halen called their former frontman’s bluff and hired Sammy Hagar as his replacement. The gloves were off, and based on sales and chart performance, Van Halen, known affectionately at this point as “Van Hagar,” came out on top. The Collection II gathers together remastered versions of the four multi-platinum studio albums Sammy Hagar recorded with Van Halen. A fifth discs features a few extras recorded between 1988 and 2004.

The band’s second incarnation — Hagar, guitarist Eddie Van Halen, drummer Alex Van Halen, and bassist Michael Anthony — represented a shift towards a more radio-friendly, melodic sound. That, in turn,  attracted a broader audience that still put the spotlight on the incredible guitar work of Eddie Van Halen. The albums with Sammy Hagar lack the same raw energy as the David Lee Roth era, but they certainly hold their own in the band’s discography and contributed to Van Halen’s enduring legacy.  The Collection II features the four consecutive #1 albums released during the Hagar era: 5150 (1986), OU812 (1988), For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991), and Balance (1995).

Van Halen’s seventh studio album 5150 would become the group’s first to top the Billboard 200. Certified platinum six times in the U.S., the record treated fans to hits like “Dreams,” “Love Walks In,” and “Why Can’t This Be Love,” which peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100.  Two years later, the follow-up OU812 arrived, and delivered four Billboard Hot 100 hits, including “Finish What Ya Started” and “When It’s Love.”

For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge earned Van Halen its first Grammy for Best Heavy Metal/Hard Rock Album. Debuting at #1 and staying there for three weeks, the album achieved triple-platinum certification. The record produced seven singles, including “Poundcake,” “Top Of The World,” and “Right Now.” A more mature sound was achieved with Eddie Van Halen’s guitar virtuosity still at the forefront. Balance was the last studio album recorded with Sammy Hagar. While it wasn’t as commercially successful as the three previous albums, it offered some solid songs in the form of “Can’t Stop Lovin’ You” and “Don’t Tell Me (What Love Can Do).”

Studio Rarities 1988-2004 is likely the one disc in the set fans want the most. It brings together eight gems from the Hagar era for the first time. Highlights include a funky cover of Little Feat’s “A Apolitical Blues,”  the quirky instrumental “Baluchitherium,” plus two songs from the Twister Soundtrack – “Humans Being” and “Respect The Wind.” Others like “It’s About Time,” “Up For Breakfast,” and “Learning To See”  were recorded during the band’s short reunion with Hagar in 2004.

The Collection II, on CD and vinyl, is the complete story of Van Halen’s time with Sammy Hagar. The reunion with David Lee Roth meant that Van Halen would never play any of this material again. Of course, Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony have continued to keep many of the songs from that era alive. With or without Roth and Hagar, there’s no denying Alex and Eddie Van Halen were and will always be the heart and soul of Van Halen.

~ Sugaree Fenario

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