REVIEW: Sammy Hagar – Cosmic Universal Fashion

My first ever Van Halen album was For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (I think I bought it on cassette with my birthday money when I turned 13) and I thought Sammy Hagar was the coolest dude alive – well, after Steve Vai and Eddie Van Halen, anyway.

My opinion of Sammy was elevated further by a kickass rendition of the song ‘High Hopes’ on the Late Show with David Letterman in about 2004, where Sammy chugged out a chunky riff and let fly on a blazing guitar solo on an Ernie Ball/Music Man Edward Van Halen signature guitar.

Sammy’s new album, ‘Cosmic Universal Fashion,’ is unique in his discography because it wasn’t written and recorded from start to end as an album: instead it comprises a bunch of disparate tracks written and recorded in a variety of different settings over a number of years for various projects. Yet there’s a unity to the tracks which helps them sit together in the same collection even though the moods vary wildly.

‘Cosmic Universal Fashion’ is not immune from moments of guitar brilliance. In fact the CD opens with a wild, high-speed guitar lick, and with axemen including Journey’s Neal Schon, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, and the Wabos’ Vic Johnson, there’s no shortage of guitar fire on this one. Tracks two and three, in particular will be especially appealing to guitar geeks like me. These two songs, “Psycho Vertigo” and “Peephole,” are the only recordings of Sammy’s short-lived supergroup, Planet Us, which included Schon, Van Halen bass player Michael Anthony and drummer Deen Castronovo (Joe Satriani was later added to the line-up, but aside from a Rockline performance nothing was ever recorded with him). These songs are dark, powerful, moody and atmospheric, and are not a million miles removed from Sammy and Mike’s work on Van Halen’s ‘Balance’ album.

The album’s first single and title track is a collaboration with a young Iraqi musician, Steven Lost, and the song’s theme and music video (see below) both echo Van Halen’s 1991 single, ‘Right Now,’ while updating the theme to the present day. The music couldn’t be any more different than the Van Halen track though, with heavy, semi-industrial drums, creppy synths and huge guitar chords.

‘Loud’ is a straightforward, top-down, foot-to-the-floor rocker with funny lyrics and a guitar solo straight out of big 70s rock, and ‘When The Sun Don’t Shine’ has country elements and a sunny, summer feel which remind me of Sammy’s ‘Livin’ It Up’ album. ‘24365’ has a tight funk-metal guitar riff which reminds me of Extreme in their ‘III Sides To Every Story’ era, and ‘I’m On A Roll’ could fit quite neatly if added between ‘Good Enough’ and ‘Why Can’t This Be Love?’ on Van Halen’s ‘5150’ album.

There are a few misfires on the CD – Sammy’s cover of the Beastie Boys’ ‘(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)’ might be a fun track in a live setting, but it doesn’t really work here and Sammy seems to strain a little bit with the vocals. And ‘Switch On The Light’ has some cool grooves, some tasty Billy Gibbons guitar and a bold, progressive chorus, but it kinda loses its way a bit. But for the most part, there’s a good balance of ‘Party Sammy’ and ‘Serious Sammy’ here, and the opportunity to hear the two Planet Us songs is a very welcome surprise which, combined with the strength of ‘Loud,’ ‘24365’ and ‘I’m On A Roll,’ makes the album well worth checking out.

Roadrunner/Loud & Proud

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