Eddie Van Halen and Brian May’s “Starfleet” and marshmallow-bacon soup

Getting the day’s writing going with a little music ranting, this is A.M. Shuffle. And yes, today it is P.M. Shuffle. Shut up. Today: Eddie Van Halen and Brian May’s “Starfleet.”

Eddie Van Halen plays guitar the way Johnny Manziel plays football, with zero regard for such niceties as “what’s come before” and “common sense.” He’s also weirdly cloistered, so there really aren’t many clips of Van Halen cutting loose in unstructured settings.

Which brings us to this strange little artifact, a half-hour-long, three-song EP featuring Van Halen, Queen guitarist Brian May, and some bass player, keyboard player, and drummer. Apparently the dudes just got together one day and started wailing, and the result was this minimally-produced music. It presaged the indie-EP release era by a couple decades, and it couldn’t sound any more ’80s if you had Max Headroom and Clara Peller singing backup.

Right from the start, you can hear May carrying the melody while Van Halen harmonic-plucks his way all over the damn place. It doesn’t get any more restrained throughout. EVH a careening bowling ball and May is the bumpers in the gutters, keeping Eddie somewhere in the same area as the song’s chord progressions. And apparently at about the 5:15 mark, Eddie just plain didn’t stop playing, leading the rest of the band to jump back in.

Now, I wish that I could play guitar well enough that this was even an issue for me, but I can’t, so I sit on the sidelines and criticize. What you hear here is the sonic equivalent of two individual musical styles that, while great on their own, don’t mesh particularly well together. It’s like marshmallow-bacon soup. Which sounds like it would make you throw up, and apparently that was figuratively the case with Eric Clapton, to whom they dedicated “Blues Breaker,” another song on the EP. He pronounced it “awful.”

I’ve always wondered what Eddie would sound like if you pushed him out of his whomp-rock whee-diddly-diddly comfort zone, and here, I think we have our answer: he’d wrestle every single thing he played into a Van Halen outtake.

Jay

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