At the time of its release, much of the fuss surrounding 1984 involved Van Halen's adoption of synthesizers on this, their sixth album -- a hoopla that was a bit of a red herring since the band had been layering in synths since their third album, Women and Children First. Those synths were either buried beneath guitars or used as texture, even on instrumentals where they were the main instrument, but here they were pushed to the forefront on "Jump," the album's first single and one of the chief reasons this became a blockbuster, crossing over to pop audiences Van Halen had flirted with before but had never quite won over. Of course, the mere addition of a synth wasn't enough to rope in fair-weather fans -- they needed pop hooks and pop songs, which 1984 had, most gloriously on the exuberant, timeless "Jump." There, the synths played a circular riff that wouldn't have sounded as overpowering on guitar, but the band didn't dispense with their signature monolithic, pulsating rock. Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony grounded the song, keeping it from floating to pop, and David Lee Roth simply exploded with boundless energy, making this seem rock & roll no matter how close it got to pop. And "Jump" was about as close as 1984 got to pop, as the other seven songs -- with the exception of "I'll Wait," which rides along on a synth riff as chilly as "Jump" is warm -- are heavy rock, capturing the same fiery band that's been performing with a brutal intensity since Women and Children First. But where those albums placed an emphasis on the band's attack, this places an emphasis on the songs, and they're uniformly terrific, the best set of original tunes Van Halen ever had. Surely, the anthems "Panama" and "Hot for Teacher" grab center stage -- how could they not, when the former is the band's signature sound elevated to performance art, with the latter being as lean and giddy, their one anthem that could be credibly covered by garage rockers? -- but "Top Jimmy," "Drop Dead Legs," and the dense yet funky closer, "House of Pain," are full-fledged songs, with great riffs and hooks in the guitars and vocals. It's the best showcase of Van Halen's instrumental prowess as a band, the best showcase for Diamond Dave's glorious shtick, the best showcase for their songwriting, just their flat-out best album overall. It's a shame that Roth left after this album, but maybe it's for the best, since there's no way Van Halen could have bettered this album with Dave around (and they didn't better it once Sammy joined, either).
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine