By this time, Van Halen had been in existence for close to 25 years, and were a big name in the industry for going on 20 years. After all of the madness, upheaval, and gargantuan amounts of monies already made, they didn’t need to make this album. And yet, they did. Furthermore, after going through two big-name lead singers, they decided to leaf through the second-tier of late 80 and early 90’s pop-metal-dom for their next front man, reaching out to Malden, Massachusetts finest – one Gary Cherone, who fronted Extreme through their run at or near the top of the charts. And so, in early 1998, Van Halen III was unleashed upon the public. It was also the absolute longest platter ever in VH history, and obvious that it should have been an Eddie solo project rather than another Van Halen record.
One problem is that, as a whole, the sound is even more mature and less fiery than what was heard on Balance, as if Eddie and Alex realize they are getting even older and do not dare compete with the young guns of rock anymore. Which, on the one hand, is a good thing, since at the time Nu-Metal was taking hold, but on the other hand, none of this really rocks with any sort of reckless abandon whatsoever. The most you get is a very measured professionalism, backed by Cherone’s odd vocal tracks. To add, most of these tracks are long, with some interesting, but ultimately not that impressive passages, to the point where you are left thinking to yourself, maybe Eddie is over-complicating himself out of a decent album. I got that feeling from a lot of tracks here. So, this is about Eddie the Artist, which over the years got the short end of the stick next to the front men of Van Halen, but now all of the sudden you are supposed to pay homage to him on this record…but what is weird is that he makes it difficult to do just that very thing here.
There are some odd asides, like “Once”, which reaches out into the trip-hop genre for inspiration, but fumbles its way back into the band’s normal wheelhouse eventually. And “Primary”, which features Eddie playing a sitar solo. “How Many Say I” is quite odd – a really oft-kilter piano ballad with Eddie on vocals for once – which should be a spot where you want to sympathize with your friendly old pal, but for some reason, the interaction comes off as slightly creepy and vaguely remote, as if you never really knew him after all these years…. Meanwhile, the rockers loaded at the start of the album, which normally pull people in, are missing the crunch, hooks, and fire of past works. I know these tracks are OK, but they are missing that key something, which separates even halfway decent VH from run-of-the-mill stuff, and it doesn’t have much to do with the lead singer. It has everything to do with the simple fact that the album never needed to be made in the first place.
Everything about this, right down to choice of producer – Mike Post, whose normal wheelhouse was cutting theme songs for TV show dramas – seemed wrong, yet the maestro insisted on one more go-round in a last-ditch attempt to prove the nay-sayers wrong. Eddie even cut the majority of bass tracks himself, rendering Michael Anthony useless for the most part. Does that make VH III the worst album in their catalog? In a sense, it does. Not because the group itself is awful in a technical sense, but the emotional void is too deep to ignore. With nothing to really play for – except to satisfy their own egos – what is the motivation here, really?