In the decade since Sammy ''I Can't Believe I Got This Gig'' Hagar replaced David Lee ''I Can't Believe I Left That Gig'' Roth as Van Halen's frontman, Edward Van Halen has settled into a mellower groove. Once the hard rockin' guitar god to real-life Bill and Teds, the 40-year-old husband to actress Valerie Bertinelli has become more of a team player in the national pop-radio league. ''In the old days,'' says Van Halen, ''I'd want to fill all the space. I'd go, 'F---, this part's too long. I want to solo. I want to blow some licks!' That got old really quick. Now I really try to make the guitar solos serve the song.''
With the release of Van Halen's 10th studio album, Balance, the follow-up to 1991's multiplatinum For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, you'll notice some other changes. Along with Eddie's trendy new crew cut and facial hair comes a darker sound, thanks in part to producer Bruce Fairbairn, a reputed studio disciplinarian whose most recent credits include two Aerosmith megasellers, Pump and Get a Grip. The producer may have tried to reform the band's oft- dissipated work habits (Van Halen admits guzzling up to 15 beers a day & during previous stints in the studio), but Fairbairn treated the trademark guitar pyrotechnics with kid gloves: ''Bruce would show up every day with a briefcase and say, 'Work, mothers.' But he didn't tell me what guitar to play or try to screw around with my sound.''