Now, if you’re not intimately familiar with Van Halen (and/or Eddie’s signature guitar sound) outside the major hits, I could play this album, released in 1998, against literally any prior records and you would — not even close — ever guess it was the same band. Case in point: the insanely strange ballad, “Once.”
It’s a beast of a song — at 7:35 it’s the second longest of VH’s career — and manages to showcase everything from a haunted, 90s-tinted trashcan piano, Spanish-jazz guitarist in a (seemingly) odd time signature, a smorgasbord of vocal stylings and the trademark chorus/flanger fueled guitar noodling of Eddie Van Halen. “Once” is dirty and dark, lacking the pull-it-out-your-ass improv of Van Halen’s Roth-era albums and the often saccharine high-sheen of the Hagar-era.
You have to hand it to them though: they went for broke, throwing everything they had at the song unbridled abandon; leaving what seemed to stick (and maybe leaving some things that, well, maybe, didn’t quite stick). Though I ask you to consider our subject again. Instead of dishing out some boring, uninspired, middle-aged white guy “cockrock,” Eddie and the rest of the gang dished us out “Once,” a song that should be recognized as a grand experiment in the face of modern obsoletion. Did it fail? By normal stardards, yes. The album was critically panned and sank commercially (although it did eventually obtain gold status). Still, Van Halen was willing to take a risk and really, isn’t that something we should all be doing a bit more of?
(Song recommendation by Tyrel Kessinger)