Fans are split on David Lee Roth’s second studio album “Skyscraper.” Released in the spring of 1988, the album was a top-ten hit, platinum smash, and yielded the hit “Just like Paradise.” Unfortunately for Dave, however, “Skyscraper” saw Dave lose a lot of fans. It was his last hit album before his commercial decline. Bassist Billy Sheehan even admits to hating this album. Far from being universally panned, however, some fans have stuck by “Skyscraper.”
After leaving Van Halen, Roth’s task was to create a new band, to create a new Van Halen. Competing with Van Halen, Roth employed Steve Vai (guitar), Billy Sheehan (bass), and Gregg Bissonette (drums). This lineup, known as the “Eat `Em and Smile Band” released the classic “Eat `Em and Smile” in the summer of 1986. For “Skyscraper,” Roth added keyboardist Brett Tuggle.
Veteran Van Halen producer Ted Templeman was behind the helm for “Eat `Em and Smile.” For his second album, Roth opted to produce the album himself with Steve Vai.
In some ways “Skyscraper” and “Eat `Em and Smile” are as different as night and day. “Eat `Em and Smile” was in some ways like a seventh Van Halen album. Roth basically took the best musicians he could find to replace Eddie, Alex and Michael, and rather successfully, emulated Van Halen’s sound. “Eat `Em and Smile” is raw, organic and sounds live. “Skyscraper,” by contrast, is far more polished, glossy and filled with overdubs. The addition of a keyboard player also took the band in a more commercial, pop direction. Some fans rejected the new sound and revolted. Billy Sheehan notes that he likes the raw demos of “Skyscraper” far more than the finished product.
It is interesting to note that while Van Halen found multi-platinum success and praise with their keyboard filled, overtly commercial “5150″ (1986), Roth failed to do the same with “Skyscraper.” Far from being a fan favorite, “Skyscraper” is noted as being the album in which Roth “jumped the shark.”
All of this is a shame, because “Skyscraper” is a really good album. It is very glossy, but that’s not really a bad thing. “Skyscraper” isn’t a go-for-the-jugular hard-rock album in the vein of “Van Halen,” (1978) and “Fair Warning” (1981). Rather, it’s a sunny, California pop album. It’s also surprisingly diverse and creative, something that a lot of fans and critics overlook. While “Skyscraper” isn’t Roth’s magnum opus, it’s probably the most creative album he’s done. Most importantly, the album works because the songs are well written, with good hooks and strong melodies.
The mid-tempo, off-beat “Knucklebones” gets the album off to a good start. With its ultra-glossy trimmings, the tone is set for the album. “Just like Paradise,” was the album’s huge smash. It’s easy to see why this was picked as a single, as its hook is undeniable. It’s easily as memorable as anything Van Halen was doing at the time with Sammy Hagar. “The Bottom Line” is a hard-rocker, in the vein of “Eat `Em and Smile” and classic Van Halen. The album takes a complete left turn for the album’s avant-garde title track “Skyscraper.” Although many fans and critics don’t get it and label it “bizarre,” this is one of Dave’s most creative, ambitious, and intriguing songs. It’s an odyssey, a sci-fi epic with psychedelic trimmings. You don’t just listen to this song, you are thrust into it. The acoustic, melancholy “Damn Good” pays tribute to old friendships long gone. Did Dave have Van Halen in mind? Dave fans regard this as one of his best songs. It’s rather surprising that it was left off his 1997 best of album. And what would a David Lee Roth album be without sexual innuendo? “Hot Dog and a Shake” picks up the pace and features some really cool solos. “Stand Up” is an arena-rock style anthem about standing up for yourself. The added keyboards and gloss work well for this song. “Hina” is one of Dave’s most underrated songs. It’s spacey and epic, with a lot of effects bombarding the senses, much like the title track. But whereas the title track is a sci-fi epic, “Hina” seems to be more like a space-age love song. Who is “Hina”? She remains a mystery. The album comes back to the ground with the infectious “Perfect Timing,” a song that could have been a contender as a single. The closing “Two Fools a Minute” is pure Vegas, albeit with more a hard-rock edge. Although not the album’s strongest cut, it’s an interesting listen and a good way to close the album.
It’s a shame that more people didn’t recognize all the qualities and ideas that “Skyscraper” has to offer. It’s a great hybrid of sunny-pop, hard-rock, and avant-garde experimentation.
If you’re looking for straight-up, no-holds-bar rock n’ roll, you may be disappointed with “Skyscraper.” If you want something rocking, and a little off-center, try giving “Skyscraper” a try.