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Album Review

Beverly Hills Cop was the top movie. Dynasty and Dallas were the one-two TV punch. Dan Marino was at the top of his quarterback game in Miami. And Ronald Reagan sat in the Oval Office.

That's how far back you have to go to unearth the last time David Lee Roth and the brothers Van Halen (Eddie on guitar and Alex on skins), along with Michael Anthony on bass, put out a record. It was Jan. 9, 1984, and the album borrowed the year for its title.

Then Roth and the rest famously fell out. As Roth recently told the Los Angeles Times, "We accused each other of betrayal and thievery and lies and treachery. And it was all true. We were all guilty. Dig up the past, and it's going to get all over everybody."

But three decades of shoveling dirt must've made everybody involved tired enough to let bygones be bygones, because the frenetic former frontman and the ever-smiling, axe-slinging wonder with the Dutch last name are rocking like it's 1978 again, reworking a trove of old demos that never made it out of the vault. (Eddie's 20-year-old son, Wolfgang, has taken the place of Anthony).

"It's material that Eddie and I generated, literally, in 1975, 1976 and 1977," Roth told the Los Angeles Times. "We've managed to stretch our adolescence like a Chiclet to the moon."

More on that stretched adolescence later. Right now, all we want to know is what's it like to listen to a 35-year-old record … that didn't get recorded till 2012?

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

"Blood and Fire" salutes the possibility of second chances ("Lost victories, long past/Every time I bloomed again/I thought it was the last/And then something crazy happens/And, boom!/I'm doing the victory dance"). And Roth poses this excellent question on "Bullethead": "How many roads must a man walk down/Before he admits he's lost?" A similarly intriguing question pops up on "The Trouble With Never." "When was the last time," we hear, "you did something for the first time?"

"As Is" implies that a person's possessions are meaningless in the face of death ("How expensive you was/Or what was you worth/Ain't no Brinks truck following no hearse"). Consumerism also gets critiqued on "Outta Space": "Eighty acres of one-stop shopping/Has somewhat changed the place/ … I do not refuse it/I am guilty, I do use it/I am the reason/We outta space."

"Beats Workin'" offers a superficial nod to the Bible with, "Got a feelin' all in my head/Try to do it like the Good Book said/Kid'll land on his feet/If he don't land on his head." "Stay Frosty," again superficially, explores the meaning of it all. "I journeyed to the north/To hear what the preacher said," the song begins. "He said, 'Your arms are too short to box with God/Learn these words instead.'" The words in question? "Stay frosty." Or, chill out, don't let worry get the best of you. "Stay frosty/That's what the preacher man said/ … Can't control your future/Can't control your friends/In a world without end/Stay frosty."

Objectionable Content

Choosing not to worry is a biblical exhortation, of course. It certainly didn't originate with Bobby McFerrin. But the bizarre mishmash of sarcastic references to various religious traditions here (Christianity, Judaism, Kabbalah, Buddhism, Islam) are irreverent at best ("God is love/But get it in writing/ … Trust in Allah/But tie up your camel") and indiscriminate at worst, emphasizing the message that it doesn't really matter what or who you believe in as long as you "stay frosty."

Objectionable content elsewhere is more in line with the permanent adolescence Roth and his bandmates fronted for so long. Sexual references are still a bit of a habit. "Tattoo" imagines a woman's transformation from "housewife to bombshell in the time it took to get that new tattoo." Roth's longstanding penchant for double entendres strikes again on "She's the Woman," which evokes a threesome ("She wanted something to regret/Tomorrow morning/This suburban garage à trois was worth exploring"). "China Town" mentions a "headless body in a topless bar" and mocks a prostitute's meager pay ("And a buck is all you earn/A great night for all concerned"). "As Is" embraces "love the one you're with" promiscuity ("It's not how you squeeze/But who returns to squeeze you/ … Love 'em all, I says/Let Cupid sort 'em out"). Meanwhile, "Honeybabysweetiedoll" includes this eye-roller: "Let's get started/Let's not stop soon/ … I'm a face grenade/With the sex pin pulled."

Gutter-level philosophizing includes Roth's observation, "Some days you're the dog/Some days you're the hydrant." "Big River" likes listening for the ocean … in a beer mug.

Scattered profanities include "h‑‑‑," "p‑‑‑" and "a‑‑."

Summary Advisory

Critics and Van Halen purists alike are hailing the band's near-reunion after nearly three decades as a nostalgic return to form that does justice to the hard-rocking quartet's legacy.

Unfortunately, that legacy looks a whole lot like the album cover for 1984: a toddler with wings smoking a cigarette. There are some interesting moments here, whether we're talking about Roth's armchair aphorisms or Eddie's passionate pyrotechnic proficiency on the fretboard. But there's also a persistent stubborn streak of arrested development—or should I say arrested legacy?

Because as Diamond Dave says, "Nobody well adjusted ever got my job, much less kept it this long."

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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