Legend has it that during the recording of “Fair Warning”, Edward Van Halen would sneak into the studio with Donn Landee during the night to lay down his guitar tracks. He was apparantly quite hacked off with his bandmates telling him what to play. The result is the absolute pinnacle of modern rock guitar.”Mean Street” opens “Fair Warning” with Eddie doing one of his tapped harmonic runs with a funk slant before merging with brother Alex and Michael Anthony on the main riff. His guitar solo burns with a white hot intensity combining feel and fury. On “Dirty Movies”, Ed plays slide guitar and conjures up another sleazy, down and dirty riff. “Sinner Swing!” finds David Lee Roth leading the band through another hyperactive boogie before giving way to an outrageous guitar solo. “Hear About It Later” shows that Roth could actually sing when so inclined. The melody in the sections before and after the guitar solo is quite strong.”Unchained”, with its headbanging, drop-D riff, is perhaps the most famous song off this album, but it can’t compare to “Push Comes To Shove”, which in my opinion contains Edward Van Halen’s greatest guitar solo (yes, better than “Eruption”). Everything about this song is perfection, from Roth’s hurt mutterings about the one that got away, to Anthony’s credible funk bass playing and Alex Van Halen’s surprisingly subdued drums, playing with a spartan discipline which perfectly compliments the track. “So This Is Love?” is another up-tempo boogie romp, but Edward opens his lead with some mellow blues runs and proceeds through a relaxed solo. If there any weaknesses on this record, they are “Sunday Afternoon In The Park” and “One Foot Out The Door”, which eat up just enough time to finish the album. The latter does contain some great playing from Ed, but doesn’t truly gel. “Sunday Afternoon” is a lumbering instrumental snoozer that loses its novelity after 2 listenings.Other than these last two pieces, this may be the Van Halen album where Edward finds the balance between guitar acrobatics and strong songwriting/arranging. He seems quite comfortable in the studio by this point, using overdubbs effectively without going overboard. This is essential Van Halen.
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In my opinion, FAIR WARNING was the heaviest album VAN HALEN had made up to that point. While the first albums have some killer songs with great melodies, on this album I think the band decided to throw all that to the wind and just get down and play some hard,heavy music. While other reviewers are right in stating that songs from this album are hardly played on classic rock stations, if you base you opinion on that fact, then you will be missing out on some great music. The album starts off with the heavy rocking MEAN STREET, which is a very good way to kick off any album. DIRTY MOVIES is next and it continues on the path that MEAN STREET started us on. SINNERS SWING while not as dark has a good guitar groove to it and some good rhythem to it. HEAR ABOUT IT LATER goes back to the heaviness of the first couple of songs and it just rocks you socks off. Of course the next song is the classic UNCHAINED, which is about the only song you will hear on rock radio these days. It starts off with a killer guitar intro along with a great drum backbeat throughout. I think on this song the band clicked on all cylinders. Hands down the definitive track off this album. I think you get the point by now, this album just rocks and for some unknown reason it gets overlooked. I highly recommend that you go out and get this album. You will not be disappointed.
I had to write a review just to correct the number of stars that my colleagues gave this record. It deserves five for a few reasons: Eddie’s “brown sound” was shaped, sculped, and perfected on this record- a perfect electric-guitar,rock-n’-roll tone. The first VH records were brilliant, but the amount of reverb- especially on VH 1- didn’t reveal Eddie’s genius for sound until Fair Warning. His solos are perfect, as on “Push Comes to Shove”. The solo on “Sinner’s Swing” is another highlight; it sounds almost like he’s having a musical seizure. I expect my CD player to spit the disc on to the floor during that solo. A little darker than the rest of DLR-era Van Halen, this album is fantastic. The songs are great, and the composition of Eddie’s solos shows him at his peak. Buy this record. Right Now!
Van Halen’s party-hardy with her [...] around her ankles theme took a sharp turn toward the dark side with the release of Fair Warning in ‘81. Partly because the band was beginning to age a bit, but mostly due to the fact that David Lee Roth’s lyrics were being shaped by recent holiday trips to Haiti (of all Places). The realization came to Roth after finnally seeing that Haiti was not really a place of merriment for rich rock stars looking to party all over the world. Thus we see the change to darker, more frank lyrics (Mean Streets, Unchained). There is a bit of the ol’ Diamond Dave represented here (Sinner’s Swing, One foot out the Door) but the dark edges never quiet leave the entire collections of tunes. Ed Van Halen’s then latest collection of authentic riffs give the album the toughness needed for the darker side, his sense of humor in his style being put aside for a more gritty, and dense playing. Fair Warning should have been a cross-roads for the band to progress into a more mature adult-oriented rock and roll band, but time shows it as the beginning of the end of the “Classic” Van Halen lineup, which preceeded the melancholy Sammy Hagar era. Fair Warning stands on its own merits as a classic Van Halen offering, it stands toe to toe with any other effort from the band. It seems that the direction the band took for Fair Warning could have moved them into the direction of such “serious” bands such as The Who or Led Zeppelin as their careers progressed, and would have allowed them to leave the “party band” image that Ed Van Halen is so intent of shedding nowadays. But it’s all ancient history today.
In 1981 all was not well in the world of the mighty VH. Tensions between guitarist Eddie Van Halen and singer David Lee Roth had been mounting, and it got to the point where Eddie had wanted to quit the group. He recorded music, possibly for a solo album, Roth heard it, and promptly wrote some lyrics–the result…FAIR WARNING. A rather, dark, cynical album, and one of the finest, if not finest, recording Van Halen ever made. The tensions within the band helped to fuel the fire, the intensity, and the passion of the recording process.
With the exception of Van Halen 3, (with vocalist Gary Cherone) “Fair Warning” was the least commercially successful Van Halen album. Although it is generally regarded among fans (especially VH purists) to be one of the bands’ best albums.
Although still a “party” album, complete with sing-along choruses, “Fair Warning” is by far the band’s darkest album. The overall vibe of the album, as well as Eddie Van Halen’s riffs and solos, while undeniably catchy with great hooks, also have a cloudy somberness to them. David Lee Roth’s lyrics, for the most part, are also somewhat more cynical than most of his work, before or since.
“Fair Warning” shows Van Halen at their zenith. Truth be told–the first six Van Halen albums are all masterpieces and essential to any great rock collection, but “Fair Warning” is the crown jewel of VH’s output. Even more so than the classic debut album. “Fair Warning” simply shows each member of the band, and the band overall as a unit, at their finest. “Fair Warning” demonstrates Eddie Van Halen’s best riffs, solos, and overall playing. It’s flashy, yet not self-indulgent, intense, yet also has a lot of soul, something that a lot of technical wizards lack. It was on “Fair Warning” that Eddie found the “brown sound.”
“Fair Warning” is also singer David Lee Roth’s finest hour. His lyrics and delivery are at their most witty, ironic and colorful height–like in the classic “one break, commmming uppp!”–from “Unchained” (which was on the spur-of-the-moment, and not pre-planned). On “Fair Warning,” David Lee Roth is immortalized as the world’s coolest frontman, ever.
“Fair Warning” also shows Van Halen’s rhythm section at their best. Bassist Michael Anthony has never been hailed as the world’s greatest living bassist. He is primly there to serve, along with drummer Alex Van Halen as the musical backbone of the band, to let Eddie do his thing. On “Fair Warning,” although his lines are pretty straightforward, they are also right upfront. You can hear the bass throughout the entire disc, it really stands out and enhances the sound and vibe of the album overall. On songs like “Push Comes to Shove” and “So This is Love,” you can get into the bass as much as any other aspect of the sound.
“Mean Street” opens with the sound of a guitar–quite at first, and then getting louder and louder–of Eddie noodling on the fretboard. And then the main riff kicks in, a mean, killer riff, one of 80s rocks’ finest. At this point you are thrust into the all-consuming greatness that is classic Van Halen. This mid-tempo rocker simply shows classic Van Halen at their best–young, invigorated, ready to kill. “Fair Warning” then moves into the dark, highly underrated “Dirty Movies.” This song starts out melodic, yet somewhat morose and creepy. The underwhellming drums at the beginning add the perfect effect. After a few seconds the main riff kicks in, and this loud and heavy, yet midtempo, melodic rocker begins. This ode to the porn industry shows the band at it’s most cynical–from the perspective of its rowdy audience. The radio staple “Sinners Swing” is a bit more upbeat, but only slightly so. The midtempo “Hear About it Later,” a song about unfaithfulness, is bitter, yet confident. The rhythm section towards the end of the song–with Michael Anthony’s pounding bass over Alex Van Halen’s light percussion is magnificently stunning. “Unchained” is undeniably the albums’ highlight and one of Van Halen’s, and rocks’ greatest songs. From the classic opening chords, the fast paced riff, to it’s conclusion, this song is a masterpiece, and simply shows VH at their peak. The album comes back to earth with the funky, disco-like “Push Comes to Shove.” “So This is Love?” is one of Van Halen’s best songs. It’s incredibly catchy, with a great bass intro, and great riff and hook. If you listen to “So this is Love,” it is guaranteed to put a smile on your face, that’s how magical it is. “Sunday Afternoon in the Park” is a foggy, somewhat offbeat instrumental. It adds a nice touch to the album overall. This instrumental leads into the short-but-sweet closing “One Foot Out the Door” which shows Diamond Dave at his meanest, with lyrics like “Now I’m gonna lose it ’cause that son-of-a-bitch”…A perfect conclusion to the perfect record.
Before Van Halen wrote songs like “Why Can’t this be Love,” before the lead-singer soap opera, there was a time when Van Halen was rightfully called the Mighty Van Halen, and “Fair Warning” proves it. The best word to describe Van Halen at this stage in their career is, quite simply, cool. “Fair Warning” is simply one of the best, coolest rock albums you will ever hear in your life.
The 2000 remaster sounds especially clear and sharp. You can make out subtle things that were easy to miss on the original CD pressing. Now “Fair Warning” can be enjoyed in all its greatness.