Sound: It's hard to not be a little jolted after listening to the title track on Sammy Hagar's latest solo record Cosmic Universal Fashion. That particular song, as the name might suggest, is a little out there and unearthly in comparison to what the former Van Halen frontman has delivered in the past. But fans of Hagar's work from the 70s through the early 2000s should not fear -- with the exception of Cosmic Universal Fashion, the rest of the CD is rock and roll all the way. That doesn't mean that Hagar is a one-note musician with 10 songs that sound exactly the same. To the contrary, you get a little bit of everything -- from bluesy rock (that's aided by the help of one famous bearded gentleman) to a Jimmy Buffett-esque track.
If the song Cosmic Universal Fashion does anything, it certainly gets your attention. Apparently co-written with Iraqi rocker Steven Lost via an online collaboration, the song has a slightly spastic, sonic riff in the intro and features crazy little riffs throughout. It definitely has more of a nu metal sound to it, and it will be interesting to see what vintage Hagar enthusiasts think of it. Honestly I haven't made up my mind because it does catch you off guard and throws some pretty cool guitar work out at immediately. In terms of fresh new material, Cosmic Universal Fashion is standout on the album.
The album features impressive guest musicians, with lifelong collaborator Michael Anthony, The Cult's Billy Duffy, Velvet Revolver's Matt Sorum (also a Cult alum), and ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons offering their talents. With each case, the musicians' influence is heard heavily in the song. Loud features Duffy and Sorum, who do inject quite a bit of The Cult into the chorus (particularly in terms of guitar effects). Even so, Loud is still all of Hagar's own and is essentially a straightforward rock and roll song. In the case of Gibbons, his influence oozes out of Switch On The Light, a slide guitar-driven blues number that is at it's best when the ZZ Top frontman lays down a few vocals himself. There's just something about that low growl of Gibbons that adds instant cool to any song.
Without the guest musicians, Cosmic Universal Fashion is surprisingly still a strong offering from Hagar. It caters to a variety of his fans, from those who loved the Van Halen days to his current stint with the life-loving Waboritas/Wabos. When The Sun Don't Shine is a track that does make for a suitable successor to Margaritaville, while Peephole is a dirty rock tune that utilizes plenty of that wonderful wah pedal. For a big finish, Hagar has given us a live acoustic version of the Van Halen hit Dreams, which surprisingly has a very unique feel from the original. Dreams transitions into a sing-along of Cabo Wabo, which does an effective job of relaying the vibe of a modern-day Hagar concert. And oddly enough, also included on the album is a cover of The Beastie Boys' Fight For Your Right To Party that isn't overly annoying, and that's a nice surprise in itself. // 8
Lyrics: Lyrically Cosmic Universal Fashion feels like a nod to all of Hagar's musical phases. I'm On A Roll evokes images of I Can't Drive 55, while Peephole has somewhat of a Poundcake feel. Of course, there's a good number of rock tracks that could fit into any other rock phase -- Montrose, Van Halen, or otherwise -- but you also get the socially concerned side of Hagar as well. The title track has more of a cynical feel that addresses the disconcerting state of the world, and that theme actually carries over to the album images (a polar bear, pumpjack, and collecting trash all adorn the inside). Don't worry about Hagar getting overly preachy, though. The straight-up rock tracks absolutely outnumber any lyrics dedicated to environmental or political issues. // 8
Overall Impression: As one of the big voices in rock, Hagar has proven himself in the past to be a frontman who will get the job done musically. Over the years, his solo material has been hit or miss, but Cosmic Universal Fashion does show that Hagar is not remaining stagnant. Besides Hagar sounding incredible on every track, there are extremely memorable riffs that pop up in a number of songs. I'm still on the fence about the title track, which is a tad bizarre, but at least Hagar is trying something unique. While it was a nice touch to bring Duffy, Sorum, and Gibbons on board, the album is strong throughout and that credit goes to Hagar himself. // 9