What does the new Van Halen song sound like, Alfred Soto?
Alfred Soto: It sounds like Van Halen. Unoriginal, sure, but who expected anything from these warring geezers? David Lee Roth still acts oblivious to the rest of the band, and so, thankfully, does Eddie, whose riff may not be as fresh or properly mixed as one by, say, Kings of Leon, but at least stutters, stalls, stops, and accelerates with the rocket flare of yore. High-grade trash by people whose lust for lucre is the best muse. A job well done, boys.
Brad Shoup: Stocking your vaults with tunes and riffs to be raided at some unspecified date is probably the smartest move a rock band can make, short of taking ownership of the masters. No one really wants Van Halen to update the approach; we want “Panama” and “Hot For Teacher” and songs that sound like “Panama” and “Hot For Teacher”. So Eddie dispatches an intern to pull something with apropos strut out of the database, and Wolfgang burnishes his Anthony harmonies, which leaves Diamond Dave to bridge the timegap. And he does just fine: pop-psych musing about permanence and identity, a well-timed expression of solidarity with the 99%, and the coining of “momshell,” which I’ll have to take three weeks off to ponder.
Anthony Easton: Van Halen was never really dangerous, and tattoos have gone from the realm of sailors and prisoners to being suitable for anyone. So a song about tattoos that attempts to make them represent danger but forgets their mainstreaming seems suitable as a metaphor for Rock and Roll — whose danger and artistry Van Halen mined after it had long been mainstreamed. Van Halen trying to return again, after so long in the wilderness, with a song that could be about that which is dangerous being no longer safe, has a cheap irony that even I don’t want to exploit.
Jer Fairall: Tattoos are often trashy, garish, vulgar, quickly regretted and bound to look increasingly silly as one ages. Van Halen could not have picked a more appropriate topic for a comeback single.
Jonathan Bogart: If they were never as great as the meatheads said, they were also never as terrible as the poindexters said. Eddie can still shred a bit; Dave can’t sing, but he never really could, and their rumbly, phlegmatic old-man harmonies have more life to them than if they’d attempted their ancient gloss. Which leaves the song, predictably terrible in all the usual ways, gross and leering and taking an odd detour into Mellencampian union-loyalism in the middle eight. I’m never going to listen to it again, but I don’t have it in me to trash it and let down the fortysomething pop-metal fan I never was.
Michaela Drapes: So that damn annoying hook is going to be with me for at least a day or two, but I can’t really fault Diamond Dave for putting his flares back on to front some old man swamp stomp for old times’ sake. So it’s a little less dirty than “Hot for Teacher” and a whole lot more like a Cialis commercial, but hey. Everyone gets old eventually. But Dave will always be the ice cream man.
Edward Okulicz: Credit to Eddie and Dave for remembering in perfect detail what they used to be and more or less replicating it. But “Tattoo” feels merely functional, like an assembly rather than a creation with the ability to make me feel like moving or being thrilled. Something about this assembly of guitars feels dry, as if it’s lacking in lubrication and partying and sex. I guess this is to “Hot for Teacher” as playing a video game is to driving really fast.
John Seroff: In 2011, after a fourteen year wait, the long awaited next-generation Duke Nukem video game finally came out. It was generally derided as a relic from another era, hardly worth the wait and awkwardly stuck in juvenile retrograde. The newly re-Rothed Van Halen single is pure Nukem in its sneering disregard for this millennium, its unfashionable guitar solos, arena rock percussion and hyperactive vocal yowls. What it delivers that Duke didn’t is a sense of life not entirely interrupted; I’d be hard pressed to prove this wasn’t an 80’s outtake on a day Diamond Dave had a cold. My god, these guys certainly sound better than the Stones did at their age. It is unapologetically blue collar and thumpingly dumb but “Tattoo” delivers more than just nostalgic joys. Nice to know that balls of steel don’t always tarnish.