Van Halen – The Collection II : A Journey Through the Hagar Years

Van Halen underwent a significant transformation when David Lee Roth, their flamboyant frontman, departed. In his place, they welcomed Sammy Hagar, former Montrose frontman, into their ranks. This change marked a shift in the band’s sound, replacing the adrenaline-fueled raw edges with Hagar’s powerful vocal prowess and guitar skills. While fans have been divided over these two line-ups, one thing remains undeniable: Van Halen’s legendary status as a stadium-filling act.

In 2023, fans are in for a treat with a remastered box set, ‘The Collection II,’ offering the chance to revisit the four studio albums created during the Hagar era. This collection includes a fifth disc with additional material, making it a comprehensive treasure trove for fans of this iconic rock band.

The Arrival of ‘5150’

The anticipation surrounding Van Halen’s 1986 album ‘5150’ was nothing short of dizzying. Rock fans worldwide eagerly awaited the results of this new partnership with Sammy Hagar. The album’s opening track, “Good Enough,” with Hagar’s lustful drawl and Eddie Van Halen’s bright riff, immediately signaled something special. The catchy single, “Why Can’t This Be Love,” solidified the album’s promise. Although ‘5150’ featured more ballads and love songs than their previous work, it also delivered heart-pounding rockers like “Get Up” and the swaggering “Inside.” The band’s transition to a smoother sound was a strategic move, aimed at dominating radio play, and it paid off with a chart-topping debut. Van Halen had successfully reinvented themselves and soared to new heights.

Continued Success with ‘OU812’

Two years later, in 1988, Van Halen followed up with ‘OU812,’ demonstrating that Hagar’s distinctive voice, Eddie Van Halen’s guitar wizardry, and the rock-solid rhythm section of Michael Anthony and Alex Van Halen had found their groove. From the big rock ballad “When It’s Love” to the wild “A.F.U. (Naturally Wired),” the album covered a wide musical spectrum. Eddie’s guitar prowess remained a focal point, but Hagar’s influence from his successful solo career began to reshape Van Halen’s DNA. The album straddled a fine line between familiar territory and new directions, occasionally playing it safe. Nevertheless, tracks like “Finish What Ya Started,” with its Stonesy vibe, the dramatic “Black and Blue,” and their cover of Lowell George’s “A Apolitical Blues” showed a band willing to push boundaries.

Getting Heavy with ‘For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge’

In 1991, Van Halen released ‘For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge,’ a heavy-hitting album that reconnected them with their rock roots. The album kicked off with the hard-hitting duo of “Poundcake” and “Judgement Day,” signaling a return to their raw sound. This was an album perfect for blasting on summer nights, whether cruising through the streets of L.A. or the highways of Illinois. Tracks like “Runaround” and “In ‘N’ Out” were tailor-made for air guitar enthusiasts. The acoustic instrumental “316” provided a moment of calm amid the storm, and the bombast of “Pleasuredome” brought the album to a close. ‘For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge’ was a welcome return to form for those who felt the band had veered too far into commercial territory.

Tensions and ‘Balance’

By the time Van Halen began recording ‘Balance’ in 1995, tensions within the band were becoming apparent, particularly between the Van Halen brothers and Hagar. Despite the backstage turmoil, the quartet managed to produce an album filled with musical and emotional highs and lows. “The Seventh Seal” thundered as an opening track, and Eddie Van Halen’s blistering guitar work and Hagar’s raw vocals on “Don’t Tell Me” were standout moments. The band’s sense of dynamics remained as strong as ever. In the UK, as special guests for Bon Jovi on their stadium tour, the band appeared unfazed by the issues brewing behind the scenes, seamlessly incorporating new tracks into their set. Songs like “Amsterdam” and “Big Fat Money” showcased their joyful energy. Sadly, ‘Balance’ marked the end of this particular iteration of Van Halen, leaving fans wondering what more could have been achieved.

Expanding ‘The Collection II’

‘The Collection II’ not only offers a chance to revisit Van Halen’s Hagar years but also includes eight newly remastered tracks. These tracks, including the only song the band released solely as a B-side, add extra allure for completists seeking alternate takes and hidden gems. While these albums might not reach the seismic heights of their debut, they still hold a special place in Van Halen’s discography. ‘The Collection II’ showcases jaw-dropping guitar skills, powerful rhythms, and stellar vocals.

The Roth vs. Hagar Debate

The debate over David Lee Roth versus Sammy Hagar will likely persist, but ‘The Collection II’ adds weight to the arguments of Hagar’s supporters. Regardless of personal preferences, Van Halen undeniably remains one of the greatest bands in hard rock history. Their legacy is expansive, with room on their personal Mount Rushmore for more than just four faces.

‘The Collection II’ is set to be released on October 6, available on both 5 LPs and 5 CDs. All the music in the set has been meticulously remastered directly from the original master tapes, under the watchful eye of the band’s longtime engineer, Donn Landee. It’s a comprehensive collection that allows fans to relive the evolution of Van Halen through the Hagar years.

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Hannah Fuller


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