Fair Warning is the fourth studio album by American rock band Van Halen. Released on April 29, 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.
The album was listed by Esquire as one of the 75 Albums Every Man Should Own.
The album's cover artwork is accompanied by an insert of a black-and-white portrait of the members of the band, in addition to another black-and-white photo of an exterior wall featuring cracked windows and a lyric from the album's opening song "Mean Street" in handwritten graffiti. This second photo was taken by famed rock photographer Neil Zlozower.
The Village Voice's Robert Christgau rated Fair Warning a B−, signifying "a competent or mildly interesting record usually featuring at least three worthwhile cuts." 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 "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 "it's a dark, strange beast, partially because it lacks any song as purely fun as the hits from the first three records" and "whatever the reason, Fair Warning winds up as a dark, dirty, nasty piece of work [...] Dull it is not and Fair Warning contains some of the fiercest, hardest music Van Halen ever made. There's little question Eddie Van Halen won whatever internal skirmishes they had, [...] even with the lack of a single dedicated instrumental showcase."
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."