Diamond Dave, Shinola Sam
Van Halen
Warner Bros.

If the first incarnation of Van Halen made music for the crystal meth generation, then Van Hagar does it for the Crystal Pepsi Generation. With each record since the departure of Diamond David Lee Roth, Eddie's band has become less his and more Sammy's--more a generic, retrofitted arena dinosaur, less about guitar pyrotechnics from beyond and more about apologist right-wing politics and bullshit proselytizing from a schmuck who can't drive the speed limit. Where VH once wrote about stealing booze from the old man's liquor cabinet and getting a boner in class--at the very least, the boys knew their audience--the thick-around-the-middle mid-'90s version celebrates selling out ("Gimme some of that big, big money," Hagar sings, without a trace of irony because he knows he's got no right).

No matter how popular Van Halen became almost from the get-go, the band behind the debut through 1984 was amazing: with Roth acting the macho-buffoon foil, Eddie deconstructed his instrument like no one since Hendrix, infusing even the most mundane, sexist, disposable piece of juvenalia with an indelible chaos. They were perhaps the only band with the brains to mimic the Stooges ("D.O.A." off II) and rip-off the Kinks, and the brawn to pull off "Hot for Teacher"; and "Eruption" forever stands as Eddie's masterpiece--a sound only he heard, and one only he could find. Now, he's just another sad whore with a pimp for a front man, writing songs about Kurt Cobain's suicide as though they could give a shit.

Pure Pond for now people
The Practice of Joy Before Death
Sub Pop Records

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The sound is alternately beautiful and harrowing, songs that jangle along their way until they erupt into bizarre bursts of feedback or minor-chord riffs; one or two songs even mine the same territory as Ween, a distorted-beyond-recognition voice singing about carpenter ants behind a mock-Pat Traversian solo. In a world where Pavement and Guided by Voices and the Grifters are hailed as heroes (if heroes are even needed now), I'll take Portland's Pond in a second: where the Holy Trinity harbor some secret dislike for pop music, Pond embraces the music and redefines it--equating the simple, inane things (artificial turf, rock collecting) with broken promises and regret. How they do it--with odd chord changes, half-heard lyrics, plain and simple melodies--is what makes them that much more special.

--Robert Wilonsky

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