Gary Cherone of the Boston based band Extreme was the guy chosen to lead Van Halen to a new era. Like many, I was less than thrilled by this. One personal factor, I can't stand Extreme. Even with my love of lame rock bands, Extreme somehow dipped so low on my lame meter that even I couldn't like them. I remember watching tv when I saw the video for "Kid Ego" come on, I thought to myself "Wow, this band really sucks." They seemed like a generic copy of a generic copy. Then they got some character, but of the wussy kind. "More Than Words" took power balladry to an all time low with a tune filled with so much sap that Sting thought rain forests were destroyed in its creation (reaching too far for a metaphor? Fuck yeah, I'm buzzed on beer!). Even when they tried to rock, it would be ham handed crud like "Rest In Peace" that got played on MTV ad nauseum.
So yeah, I was less than juiced about Cherone as it was. Now he was put in the almost no win situation of replacing both Sammy Hagar and Diamond Dave as lead singer of Van Halen. To make matters worse, Eddie Van Halen told Cherone to sing like Bon Scott which made him sound like a bad imitation of...Sammy Hagar. It seemed like a long way to go for the band to essentially get a Sammy Hagar that does what he's told. Well, when I say band I mean Eddie and Alex Van Halen since Michael Anthony started getting iced out, reportedly playing bass on like only half the disc. One of Extreme's hallmarks was adaptability, they could mix a number of genres into their sound and apparently that's what the Van Halens wanted.
Because this was Van Halen mach 3, where Eddie's creativity would run unhindered by any egotistical lime light stealin' lead singer. And if Eddie Van Halen was an auteur on par with say Trent Reznor or Prince then Van Halen III was to be a work of genius. And some positive buzz started with people talkin' 'bout the song "That's Why I Love You". EVH was going to work in some of those influences that he appreciated but hadn't used like Peter Gabriel. And he was going to do it with TV theme king Mike Post as producer. Yes indeedy, it was Eddie Van Halen's way or the highway.
Van Halen III was released in 1998 to much fanfare. And it was everything that any prior Van Halen album wasn't. It was musically adventurous with Gabriel like rhythms ("Once"), political commentary ("Ballot Or The Bullet") and Roger Waters like croaking ("How Many Say I" with EVH on lead vox). While these excursions added to Van Halen's repitoire, they were merely functional representations of things other people did better. And try as they might, the band was only able to deliver decent hard rockers like "Without You" or "One I Want". No "Panama" here. Not even a "Poundcake". No fun aloud. The production sounded flat and evenly mixed, like a TV theme song. And the buzz song "That's Why I Love You" was dropped in favor of the "More Than Words"-ish "Josephina".
I tried for months to like this album, I really did. Eddie Van Halen sounded inspired, can't really fault any of the guitars here. As a whole, it just sucked too much. Too much for even a super fan like me to take. I wasn't alone, Van Halen III stopped the band's career cold. Even a tie in with the film Lethal Weapon 4 couldn't raise much interest in one of the disc's better cuts (the hard rock stomper "Fire In The Hole").
The failure of Van Halen III on a creative and commercial level effectively ended the band's recording career. To this day, Van Halen has not recorded a CD of new material - just greatest hits comps and reunion tours. Gary Cherone quietly departed from the group and I felt a little bad for him. I felt like he didn't get to be himself and have an opportunity to show if he could really do the job.