Van Halen – For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (Album of the Week)

This week it’s time to head back to the fateful year of 1991, but in this case it’s to visit a band that was immune to the tectonic shift in rock that year. Van Halen were riding high heading into their third album with Sammy Hagar at the mic. While many dismissed Van Hagar as AOR rubbish that didn’t hold a candle to the beloved David Lee Roth era, VH were cranking out number one albums and hit singles as well as arenas full of eager fans.

Van Halen – For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge

Released June 17, 1991

My Favorite Tracks – The Dream Is Over, Poundcake, Judgment Day

Van Halen spent a year recording their first effort of the 1990’s. While Andy Johns was tabbed to produce, the band also brought in an old friend – Ted Templeman, who had famously guided the band’s early albums but had been absent through the Van Hagar era. The duel producers were a means to satisfy Sammy, who apparently didn’t enjoy working with Johns.

This album would see Van Halen forego the synth-based AOR rock of the late ’80’s and move to a heavier song structure based on guitar, and the occasional power tool. While I’m sure the band made the decision on their own terms, it did coincidentally fit with the times as the album’s release slotted in the summer that hair metal, AOR and other venerable forms of rock met their mainstream end.

The album cover is nice though also basic, but the real art lore was in the inner booklet pictures. In first pressings of the album, one photograph showed a blackboard with a bunch of phone numbers on it. Some of the phone numbers got massive amounts of calls, so the record label repressed the album with the phone numbers removed. Note that these CD and cassette versions are not hard to acquire, it was a mass produced item so the phone numbers version carries no premium. Vinyl copies of the album did not have the blackboard photo that I know of, but vinyl of this album is scarce and does command huge value.

And of course there’s the album title. If it isn’t obvious, it spells out FUCK. The phrase was NOT the origin of the actual word “fuck,” which is a thing that’s out there but isn’t true.

There are 11 songs running at near 52 minutes total, time to head on in.


We start off with Eddie using a drill to mess with his pickups and then we’re off to the races. This is a heavy, driving track that doesn’t go too fast but really slams its point home. And that also happens to be what the song is about – slamming the point home with a nice, lovely woman.

Judgment Day

This one retains the heaviness but gets a bit faster as Sammy extols the virtues of kicking back in life and staying out of the ambitious rat race. This song was a big hit with my teenage self, perhaps informing me a bit more than it should. But hey, it’s all good.


This one is pure sleaze and grime. This is some monster heaviness from Eddie and the band, it goes a degree further with it than Van Halen ever really went before. This one also has a good helping of the backing vocals that Van Halen were famous for but were not emphasized a lot on this album.

The song is about the old 1-900 numbers, which were a pre-Internet outlet for the sexually frustrated gentleman. They were total rip-offs as magazines were far cheaper, but I guess nothing beats that “personal” interaction. The song today would be about OnlyFans.


One of the album’s featured singles, this track is a bit of a faster-paced and a less R-rated version of a sex song. It could be considered basic but it’s a pleasant song and I don’t find anything wrong with it. The video makes use of the rotating stage Van Halen were into using in their live shows, a pretty obvious fit given the song title.

Pleasure Dome

This one is a bit of an oddball. It’s still fittingly heavy for the record but is also a bit out in left field, at least in vibe it’s reminiscent of the prior album OU812. It seems like someone is caught in an artificial utopia of some sort but is aware and wants out, some kind of virtual reality or simulation kind of thing maybe. There is some seriously crazy riffing from Eddie on here, it hangs back a bit in the song but its truly something to behold.

In ‘N’ Out

A bit more of an “open” rocker here, it’s a song about how money makes the world go around and most people are basically screwed no matter what they do. The song’s loose rock vibe is a bit in contrast with the grave subject matter but it’s a sign that Van Halen were willing to explore more serious lyrical fare, something that comes up again on this album.

Man On A Mission

Another bit of a loose and upbeat song, this is Sammy motivating himself to go out and get his girl. Parts of the song are a bit self-help in nature and then other parts are total sleaze, it all works pretty well overall.

The Dream Is Over

A total vibe shift here from going out and getting some to a stark condemnation of the system and its leverage against the average citizen. This one really came from out of nowhere and delivered a powerful statement about the workings of society. Eddie and Sammy had discussed turning an eye toward more serious lyrical fare and they hit on it big time here. The song feels like nothing less than a death certificate for the American Dream and feels just as relevant today as it was 32 years ago.

Right Now

The album’s huge hit and a song that caused a lot discussion back on release. This was another of the songs with a more serious look at things and is the song Sammy Hagar has declared his proudest lyrical moment from his Van Halen days.

Right Now is about embracing change and reaching for it in the moment, even in the face of great adversity. The music video featured a bunch of random footage with text of things that were going on “right now,” some funny but many serious. The video was a smash hit and is likely the band’s biggest of their career.

Right Now was also used by Pepsi in a huge advertising campaign for Crystal Pepsi. The story of that soda is an odd one all its own, but for Van Halen it caused a fair bit of anger for the band “selling out” to corporate interest. Eddie justified the licensing, saying that the ad agency would have simply hired some jingle writers to do a basic cover of the song anyway, and he was correct in that assessment.


This instrumental track was originally written during the 5150 era but was brought back out by Eddie when his son Wolfgang Van Halen was born. Wolfgang’s birthdate was 3-16-1991, thus giving a title to the piece. This one is a quiet and reflective piece that sequences very well after the thematically heavy nature of Right Now.

Top Of The World

The album ends with a more “standard” Van Halen track that connects more to the prior Van Hagar releases. It’s a pretty simple and uplifting song that pretty well says what the title communicates. It’s a pretty nice way to close a record that was filthy in parts and serious in others.

For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge was another smash hit for the Van Hagar camp. It spent 3 weeks at the top of the Billboard 200 chart and would come out with 3 US platinum certifications. Singles from the album were all over radio and MTV, and the band’s tour for this cycle was one of their longest. While success can be defined by many different metrics, this period was easily one of the band’s most successful. Music critics were not very into this album, but the record won the popularity contest.

For me personally this was a pretty watershed moment in my music history. The summer of ’91 was when I really took off as far as getting into music goes, and I went to get this one on the day it was released. Along with it I also bought an album that had just come out a week prior, that being Skid Row’s second album Slave To The Grind. I went back and forth between both albums constantly and both tapes got wore out pretty quickly.

The “Van Hagar” era gets a fair bit of flack from Van Halen fans, with many people living and dying on the classic catalog built in the band’s first frame with David Lee Roth. I would never in a million years argue against that period of the band. But to discount Sammy’s tenure is short-sighted and for me, this album is the high point of that time.

10 thoughts on “Van Halen – For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (Album of the Week)

  1. Well dude you picked out three brilliant tracks as your fav’s on this album. I caught this tour back in Nov ’91 in Winnipeg Manitoba with Alice In Chains opening. Amazing when I think back to that concert within a hour you go from Man In the Box to Poundcake! lol
    It was a great show…Halen was on fire…

    Liked by 1 person

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