Mark my words: in three years, Van Halen is going to be fat and self-indulgent and disgusting, and they’ll follow Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin right into the toilet. In the meantime, they are likely to be a big deal. Their cover of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” does everything right, and they have three or four other cuts capable of jumping out of the radio the same way “Feels like the First Time” and “More than a Feeling” did amid all the candyass singer/songwriters and Shaun Cassidy-ass twits.
Van Halen’s secret is not doing anything that’s original while having the hormones to do it better than all those bands who have become fat and self-indulgent and disgusting. Edward Van Halen has mastered the art of lead/rhythm guitar in the tradition of Jimmy Page and Joe Walsh; several riffs on this record beat anything Aerosmith has come up with in years. Vocalist Dave Lee Roth manages the rare hard-rock feat of infusing the largely forgettable lyrics with energy and not sounding like a castrato at the same time. Drummer Alex Van Halen and bassist Michael Anthony are competent and properly unobtrusive.
These guys also have the good sense not to cut their hair or sing about destroying a hopelessly corrupt society on their first album. That way, hopelessly corrupt radio programmers will play their music.
Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band with the Rootettes, on the other hand, are already fat and self-indulgent and disgusting. This is a good thing because, in bypassing artistic maturity for immediate decadence, they have the distinction of being the first rock band in history to complain that their trusses are slipping (“My Wig Fell Off”). Oddly enough, they are also a good rock band. You would expect they’d be just clowns with a repertoire like “Heartbreak of Psoriasis” and “Too Sick to Reggae,” but this outfit can play blues-based rock with anybody. Gary Katz, of Steely Dan fame, has produced a clean and eminently listenable instrumental sound while retaining the uniqueness of the Root’s voice, which resonates like an emphysema victim vomiting inside the Goodyear blimp (check out “Boogie ’til You Puke”).
All in their thirties, Root Boy and the rest can hardly be defined as New Wave. They are, however, part of the general movement of lunacy and satire that is shaking up the music industry. A lot of people thought the Sex Pistols were going to blaze the trail into the Top Ten, but the real breakthrough was Randy Newman’s “Short People.” Parliament/Funkadelic is having a similar psychological effect in black music. Like these two acts and unlike the punks, Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band are both humorously and musically accessible. Their stance as over-the-hill wimps is just unthreatening enough that hopelessly corrupt radio programmers might play their music. I hope so.