Strip away the four cover versions, the three brief instrumentals and the minute-long goof on “Happy Trails” and Van Halen’s fifth album, Diver Down, suddenly seems like a cogent case for consumer fraud. Van Halen, it appears, is running out of ideas: there’s more excelsior here than in a shipment of glassware.
The LP kicks off with a cover of the Kinks’ classic ode to better days, “Where Have All the Good Times Gone!,” that lays bare singer David Lee Roth’s shortcomings. He can uncork a robust assortment of kung-fu grunts, bobcat yells and salacious oooeee!‘s and whoa now!‘s, but he’s no interpreter: here, as on the other remakes, he sings the words phonetically, as if he were reading them off of flashcards. After a so-so “(Oh) Pretty Woman,” an utterly perfunctory “Dancing in the Street” and the dispensable novelty number “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now),” we’re left with four original compositions (not including Eddie Van Halen’s three guitar nocturnes).
Of these, only “Hang ‘Em High” and “The Full Bug” are worth hyperventilating about. “Hang ‘Em High” is a ferocious, hellbent-for-leather tune whose potent, if recycled, images of a motorcycle outlaw on the run conjure up Blue Oyster Cult (except there’s no redeeming irony here). “The Full Bug,” though, is 3:18 of the right stuff: a blur of guitar shrapnel and splintered drumsticks complementing Roth’s tawdry lyric about giving some willing woman “the best part of a man.”
There’s a little Van Halen in everybody, these guys are fond of saying, but there’s too little on Diver Down.