The "III" in the title of Van Halen III refers to the unveiling of the third incarnation of Van Halen, the post-Sammy Hagar lineup featuring former Extreme vocalist Gary Cherone as lead singer. According to the party line, Van Halen ditched Sammy because they wanted to try new musical and lyrical approaches that Hagar was reluctant to pursue. And it is true that Van Halen III makes a slight break from his dunderheaded party rock, but that's a difference that only hardcore fans will be able to hear. Less tired but no more inspired than Balance, Van Halen III suffers from the same problems as Hagar-era Van Halen -- limp riffs, weak melodies, and plodding, colorless rhythms. On top of that, there are layers of pretensions, from portentous lyrics to segmented song structures that don't sound all that different from "Poundcake." Evidently, the group wanted to prove that it could still rock more than it wanted to stretch its musical muscle. There are a couple of new twists on the Van Halen format, whether it's funky breakdowns or political consciousness, but it's all too familiar, since Cherone sounds uncannily similar to Sammy, and Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony remain the blandest rhythm section in all of hard rock. That would be a shame if Eddie had a clear idea of where he wanted to take the band, but he seems content to wallow in the big arena rock he has long since exhausted, churning out faceless riffs and technically proficient guitar solos that never expand the vocabulary he established 20 years ago. Van Halen III may showcase a new version of Van Halen, but that doesn't make it a new beginning.
Van Halen III Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine