When force of nature Roth departed in 1985, few would have predicted that Van Halen would go on to even greater success without him, but that's exactly what happened. Rather than flounder, the four-piece completed by brothers Eddie and Alex Van Halen, and bassist Michael Anthony regrouped to confound expectations and begin their second act.
Originally released in 1986, and co-produced by Foreigner's Mick Jones, '5150' is chock full of bangers, from the rip-roaring 'Good Enough' to ballad 'Love Walks In' - the first song Sam and Ed wrote together - and the driving 'Dreams'. The evocative 'Summer Nights', earworm 'Best of Both Worlds' and the loco title track hammer home the point, however, although a bit of throwaway fun, the closing 'Inside' is easily one of the worst songs they ever recorded.
'OU812' followed in 1988, and was less cohesive. With more '80s production affections and less memorable songs, it's arguably the weakest of the four. It's also one of the most infuriating releases of all time due to the inane decision to list its songs in alphabetical order on its back cover, rather than chronologically. Still, it has its fair few high points, including rapid-fire opener 'Mine All Mine', the tender 'When it's Love', the rip-roaring 'A.F.U. (Naturally Wired' and the back to basics blues of 'Finish What Ya Started'.
1991's 'For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge' put less focus on ballads and keyboards, and shone the spotlight back on Eddie Van Halen's incendiary guitar playing. Sounding more revitalised and focused than they had done in eons, this album might just be the best of the four. Kicking off with lead single 'Poundcake', from the excitable 'Judgement Day' to the frenetic 'Runaround' and the grooving 'In and Out' it barely lets up. 'Right Now' and 'Top of the World' meanwhile saw them bothering the charts once more, and in '316' - Wolfgang Van Halen's birthdate, fact fans - the album featured the first solo EVH guitar piece since 1982's 'Diver Down'.
Giving them their forth U.S. #1 album in a row, the unfairly-maligned 'Balance' (1995) ended the Hagar / Halen alliance. Coming in the post-grunge era, it was a much more stripped back, organic sounding affair. Opener 'The Seventh Seal' and power ballad 'Feelin' had Hager singing with more convection than he had done in years, while the Page-esque 'Take Me Back (Deja Vu)' and lead single 'Don't Tell Me (What Love Can Do)' showed that they weren't afraid to step outside of their comfort zone.
Given a fresh remaster by Donn Landee, each disc sounds crystal clear, with '5150' and 'For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge' in particular benefitting from the process. Each instrument shines through in the mix, and its a pleasure to hear these albums with such clarity.
The rumoured fit-to-bursting Van Halen vault however remains closed, for although there is a disc of bonus tracks, all have been released before. In fact, two of these tracks have been rather pointlessly removed from the original CD versions, and added to the bonus disc - 'A Apolitical Blues', and -'Baluchitherium'. Still, it's great to have Hagar's final outing from his original tenure, the brilliant 'Humans Being' at last available on an official Van Halen release, and the disc does a great job of neatly collect together the various other b-sides and bonus tracks.
We'll never see the likes of Van Halen again, and this set is a fantastic reminder of jut how special this era was.
'The Collection II' is available now. To order, click here.