BEST OF BOTH WORLDS, while showcasing some undeniably powerful music, becomes, in the end, a mean spirited, classless greatest hits collection, meant at elevating Hagar over Roth every chance it gets. This anthology leaves the fans little doubt that the 1996 debacle of the Hagar firing/resignation (depending on who tells the story) and rehiring of Roth (and then immediate firing) rests solely on the head of Eddie Van Halen.
There's always fierce debate over two incarnations of Van Halen. Personally, I do not align myself exclusively with either camp, as I am a fan of the band's music made with both frontmen, though I do see the advantages and disadvantages of each.
When Roth fronted them from their commercial breakout in 1978 to the Van Roth's demise in 1985, Van Halen was known for wildly inventive guitar from Eddie, over-the-top vocals and theatrics from Roth, and killer live shows. Roth was the prototypical rock frontman: a larger than life caricature who embodied all the fratboy tendencies of the party-hearty rock and roll lifestyle. The genius of David Lee Roth as the prototypical rock and roll front man is his larger-than-life personae, his gonzo rock antics, and his wild, crazy partycentric lifestyle. Much of the appeal of Van Halen was this larger-than-life frontman.
Roth decided to pursue his own (aptly insubstantial) solo career, and Van Halen brought in Sammy Hagar, frontman to the heavy metal outfit Montrose. When Hagar replaced Roth, there was, naturally, no way for him to replace Roth as the front man without an image modification for the band. While Roth was almost a caricature of himself, a party-hearty animal, Sammy Hagar brought a much more down to earth approach to the whole rock front-man scene.
While Van Hagar churned out the slick guitar work the band was known for, they became a much more smooth adult pop sounding band. The Van Hagar years certainly had as many hits as Roth, Hagar always found himself living in the shadow of his predecessor. Sammy Hagar was much more of an everyday kind of guy than Roth, and he simply didn't have the larger than life persona that made Roth so appealing to the band's fanbase. He was the meat and potatoes front man while Roth was the caviar on a yacht out in the Carribean front man. Each has their strengths.
After the brief marriage and sudden divorce with Gary Cherone as Van Halen's frontman (a move that would cost the band their record contract, alienating the large majority of their fanbase; tellingly enough, nothing from Van Halen III is present here - the best of both worlds indeed), Van Halen lapsed into a musical silence that as of this writing still goes unbroken (save for the obligatory three new tracks presented here). Everyone wanted a reunion, but they wanted Roth. Eddie would have none of that. Instead, he brought Sammy back into the fold for three new songs and a reunion tour.
This compilation is a result of that tour. After the band never released the "Vol II" continuation of the 1996 retrospective "Greatest Hits," many fans wondered if we'd ever get a good official sampler of Van Halen. So far, with this addition to the canon, the fans still don't have one.
BEST OF BOTH WORLDS, while it certainly has a well-chosen track selection, plays as just a dirty way for Eddie and the boys to downplay Roth at everystep of the way. Roth gained the band much of their initial popularity, so there's no way even Eddie can ignore Roth's contributions. But BOTH WORLDS is a disaster, because it has this stuttering, start-start rhythm as Sammy and Roth continually juxtapose each other, and the album never really gains a flow. Had it been arranged chronologically, with Dave and Sammy having their own disc, this would be the definitive sampler of Van Halen. This is the perfect example of how track sequencing can ruin albums and compilations, as this comp has all the biggest VH songs from both frontmen.
As it stands now, however, BEST OF BOTH WORLDS just becomes a petty swipe at David Lee Roth, all at the expense of the fans. There are no pictures of him in the liner notes (save the album covers), barely a mention of him, and continual, over the top praising and adulation of Sammy Hagar. Then, to make matters even more insulting, they close out the album with Hagar singing three Roth tunes live.
In the end, BEST OF BOTH WORLDS have all the right things going for it to be a great Van Halen retrospective, featuring the strengths of both incarnations of the band. But just like the band's career itself, this compilation becomes just another casualty in the midst of ongoing ego wars. And who really loses? The fans, that's who.