The guitars squeal and squiggle, the drums flail, and the singer brays waggishly about champagne and supermodels — theoretically, at least, the original Van Halen are back on the two reunion tracks that wrap up Van Halen: Best Of, Volume 1. Acting as if they don’t want to be remembered for ebullient pop like ”Dance the Night Away” or the grin Eddie Van Halen flashed in their old videos, the band riffs and glowers like grizzled bluesmen; David Lee Roth’s voice is so guttural that his jaw sounds as if it were scraping against the studio floor.
The songs — the herky-jerky bump-and-grind ”Me Wise Magic” and the meatier walking-blues strut ”Can’t Get This Stuff No More” — are incidental, the Eddie solos overly familiar. (Imagine ”Hot for Teacher” with 50 extra pounds and a girdle.) But producer Glen Ballard sprays the tracks with a fresh coat of rust remover, making for at least one magic moment per song: Roth’s distorted voice intertwining with Eddie’s guitar in ”Me Wise Magic,” and the surging chorus and harmonies in ”Stuff.”
Even as this edition of Van Halen gets it up one last time, what’s missing in action is their joie de rock vivre. Coming after 15 vintage odes to whammy bars and women (minus hits like ”Hot for Teacher” and ”Finish What Ya Started”) divided between the Roth and Hagar years, the new songs feel like a requiem for an era that doesn’t exist anymore. (”That’s the thing about self-improvement/Don’t get me wrong, I plan to get some soon,” cracks Roth in ”Stuff.”) And in light of their botched reunion, Roth’s references in both songs to ”truth” and ”lies” feel ironic, almost sad. The one-shot Van Halen revival brings something new to the party, but it’s the last thing anyone would have expected: poignancy.
”Me Wise Magic”: B-
”Can’t Get This Stuff No More”: B+