Fair Warning is the fourth studio album by Americanhard rock band Van Halen. Released in 1981, it sold more than two million copies, but was still the band's slowest-selling album of the David Lee Roth era. Despite the album's commercially disappointing sales, Fair Warning was met with mostly positive reviews from critics.
Fair Warning was one of the first albums to reflect the rift in the Van Halen power structure; David Lee Roth wished to emphasize the pop influence that emerged on the previous two albums (which brought the band increased attention and a wider appeal), while Eddie Van Halen preferred to explore darker, longer and generally more complex song-structures that emphasized his innovative guitar work. Eddie apparently prevailed, as the album in fact featured longer, darker, more aggressive guitar-oriented material. "Unchained" can be heard frequently on rock radio stations.
The album's cover artwork is accompanied by an insert of a black-and-white picture of the band, as well as a view of a ghetto drywall. This drywall has a wire running across it, cracked windows at the top and a Roth-era Van Halen logo with plaster cracked over the left wing. Also on the wall is a lyric from the album's opening song, "Mean Street".
In the band's licensed game, Guitar Hero: Van Halen, four of the nine tracks of this album are available for play: "Mean Street", "Hear About It Later", "Unchained" and "So This Is Love?"
The Village Voice's Robert Christgau rated Fair Warning a B-, signifying "a competent or mildly interesting record that will usually feature at least three worthwhile cuts." He stated that it featured "not just Eddie's latest sound effects, but a few good jokes along with the mean ones and a rhythm section that can handle punk speed emotionally and technically." He also explained that "at times Eddie could even be said to play an expressive – lyrical? – role. Of course, what he's expressing is hard to say. Technocracy putting a patina on cynicism".
A retrospective review by Allmusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine found the album fairly positive. In the review, he initially stated that "it's a dark, strange beast, partially because it lacks any song as purely fun as the hits from the first three records" and that "whatever the reason, Fair Warning winds up as a dark, dirty, nasty piece of work." He went on to say that "dull it is not and Fair Warning contains some of the fiercest, hardest music that Van Halen ever made. There's little question that Eddie Van Halen won whatever internal skirmishes they had, [...] even with the lack of a single dedicated instrumental showcase". He concluded that "nastiness is the defining characteristic of Fair Warning, which certainly doesn't make it bunches of fun, but it showcases the coiled power of Van Halen better than any other album, which makes it worth visiting on occasion."
The Rolling Stone Album Guide, however, gave the album two-and-a-half stars out of five, stating that "the most significant musical development is the synthesizer introduced at the end of Fair Warning, which would be exploited to greater effect on later albums."