Van Halen – A Different Kind Of Truth (2012)

Posted: February 4, 2012 in Music

A long time ago, in a land not so far away, a little band was formed by a couple of brothers who, after playing each other’s instruments as kids, decided to dive head first into the world of rock and roll. Being young – and poor – they had decisions to make along the way. The first (and maybe most ironic) involved trying to save a few bucks by opting to hire a guy who had equipment as the lead singer in lieu of renting the equipment from him for cash.

Those brothers? Eddie and Alex Van Halen. The guy with all the equipment? None other than David Lee Roth. The rest is rock and roll history.

And a sordid history at that. I don’t think I need to go into details about the soap opera that became Van Halen after the successful release of THE album of the 80’s – 1984. Roth quit the band (or got fired, depending on who you ask) and Sammy Hagar took over vocals. That lasted a few albums before history repeated itself and Hagar was fired from Van Halen (or left the band, again it depends on who’s story you believe) and replaced for one forgettable album by Extreme’s on-again/off-again front man Gary Cherone.

There have been short-lived reunions and tours, both with Diamond Dave and the Red Rocker, but the camp has been a mess since the 90s. Eddie got divorced and went to rehab. Longtime bassist Michael Anthony washed his hands of all the drama and formed Chickenfoot with Hagar. Eddie went to rehab again. And so on and so forth.

In fact, the drama behind the interpersonal relationships between band mates left a huge black eye on the legacy of possibly one of rock and rolls greatest bands. Granted, they are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for their music – not for their attitudes – but it became easy for many (including myself) to just stop caring about them and their attitudes.

There have been all kinds of rumors circulating the last five years or so about a new VH album, but it wasn’t until late 2010 when Dweezil Zappa (a great guitarist in his own right) spilled the beans that Eddie had played him “some new stuff off for the new album” that sent the rumor mill into overdrive. Even David Lee Roth got caught up in the media frenzy, placing subtle hints on his website and Twitter that – indeed – a new Van Halen album was being recorded and that he would once again be fronting the band.

For me, I pretty much held a “wait-and-see” stance. After all, when you consider how mean and dirty the fighting had been over the years between Roth and Eddie, a reunion seemed as likely to me as a smallpox outbreak. That all changed on January 10, 2012…

The single (and subsequent video) for “Tattoo” was sprung on the media, and it was apparant that – for once – the rumors were true. Van Halen was back to it’s (almost) original form. Eddie’s son, Wolfgang Van Halen, was taking over the bass guitar duties, but Roth and Eddie were indeed back together.

A Different Kind of Truth, slated for a February 7th release on Interscope Records, is indeed happening. No need to pinch yourself to see if you are dreaming – the album is on it’s way. As one of the privileged few to have had the chance to listen to this album, I can say in no uncertain words that Van Halen is back, and leaner and meaner than ever. Well, mostly…

While the album is definitely ‘new’ there are a few tracks along the way that have been sitting unfinished on a shelf for 30-plus years. Eddie Van Halen has admitted that a few of the cuts are finished versions of old demos that never made the albums from the 70s and 80s, but quite frankly, they fit in here just fine as the whole album is a glorious blast from the past that sounds like it could have been released in 1992 as opposed to 2012 – but that’s not a bad thing.

In fact, the albums opener and first single – “Tattoo” – had almost the same effect on me as another lead single did from an album a long, long time ago. After Women and Children First and Diver Down, the last thing I expected to hear from the band was “Jump”. I still remember the first time hearing that song and thinking “What the fuck is THIS??” The rest of 1984, though was amazing, and slowly but surely, Jump found itself as just a small piece to the puzzle. Tattoo is the same. When I first heard it, I was pretty unimpressed, but after countless listens it started to grow on me. Then, after hearing the rest of the album, I realized that this too, was just one cog of the wheel, and that better things were to come.

Like the album’s second track “She’s A Woman” (one of the reworked demos we were talking about). An undeniable rocker loaded with signature Van Halen flash, it’s great to hear this song finally make it to disc. It single-handedly throws this album into overdrive, and it’s not even the best song on the playlist. Immediately noticeable is the ability of Wolfgang to hold down the fort on bass. I wanted so badly to rip apart his inclusion, but I just can’t do it. He hammers away flawlessly, and if it weren’t for the absence of Michael Anthony’s backing vocals, you might just think the bearded one was still hanging around.

“You and Your Blues” is a little misleading title-wise, as it isn’t really very bluesy. Instead, it’s a mid-tempo rocker that highlights Roth’s timeless voice. It carries great harmonies and basic guitars (at least by Van Halen standards), but don’t sell it short. The marching drums and steady pace will have you tapping your feet or pumping your fist, depending on how loud you play it.

A nasty riff opens “China Town” – a much more aggressive track that features Eddie being Eddie, shredding as fast and furious. The energy impresses, and the Ed’s solo is right up their with the best he’s done.

“Blood and Fire” sounds like it was peeled off the vinyl of Diver Down, and shows that you don’t have to change things up to make a hit record. This should be the second single off the disc, and should match or eclipse the success Tattoo has already had. Nice even tempo and perfect balance highlight one of the albums strongest cuts.

The album title comes from the lyrics of “Bullethead” which once again puts the pedal to the floor and flies down the open road. The song is heavy in bass guitar, and the youngest Van Halen delivers. Roth, meanwhile, shows a ton of swagger and a good reminder of his former spandex-clad self. Van Halen has always delivered these kind of tracks well, and this is no exception.

“As Is” is a little rougher around the edges, but has a swirling wall of noise that is pretty close to the vibe “Hot For Teacher” had. Alex has the most fun here, staying rhythmic but loosing his mind with complicated, cymbal heavy patterns. The spoken lyrics midway through are another trip down memory lane, but the track is fresh and emphatic – and another solid effort.

A weird, spacey intro opens “Honeybabysweetiedoll”, which sets the pace for one of the most interesting tracks on the album. The drums and bass are muted throughout, and Roth’s vocals take on a different nuance with a tone somewhere between speaking and singing. I didn’t mind the experimentation here – there was bound to be a track or two along the way with something ‘different’ – as this one still keeps the core of Eddie’s guitar parts pretty true.

“The Trouble With Never” has almost a Jimi Hendrix vibe to it (if you look past the sing along choruses), and features one of the better solos on the disc. It’s funky and fresh without losing it’s ‘hard rock’ edge, and is a real diamond in the rough. It took a time or two through to grow on me, but was definitely worth the attention.

“Outta Space” is another throwback – but maybe as far back as Van Halen II. Roth challenges the limits of his vocals on the high end, and Eddie delivers another steam roller performance. The whole thing is precise and ballsy, and adds another great track to an album full of them.

One of my favorite Van Halen songs was “Ice Cream Man” off their first record. It was bluesy and soulful (and mostly acoustic) before blasting into a rocking good time. If “Stay Frosty” isn’t the sequel to that track, it is at least its long-lost twin brother separated at birth. For being so close in style and structure, it still comes off fresh and groovy. It’s buried pretty deep in the tracklist, but – for me – shines as bright as anything else on …Truth. Roth shines as he tells a great story that opens with a whisper and ends with a roar. Considering the quality of the solos towards the end, I would suggest not skipping this one.

“Big River” isn’t a bad song by any means, but is probably the weakest link of the chain. It’s got the harmonized chorus, and the typical guitar/bass/drums – nothing really ‘wrong’ at all – but when you put it up against the rest of the album, it feels a little less inspired and a little more forced.

Closing things out is “Beats Workin'” – another track that will bring fans back to the David Lee Roth heyday, but in this case it’s not so much because of his vocal efforts. The show-stealer here is Eddie’s beefy guitar intro that muscles the first 60 seconds of this song forward. It’s not the usual technical or flashy speed-fest, instead playing heavy on a few fat chords that drip with distortion and feedback.

Honestly, I wish there would have been a few more tracks (or a few hundred more) as this album rarely let up or showed any signs of weakness. As far as comebacks go, it doesn’t get much better than this. With any luck, the older, wiser versions of Eddie and Dave will keep their arrogance and attitudes in check and continue to make great music. A Different Kind Of Truth proves that – when they want to – these guys can still make magic. Let’s just keep hoping that they ‘want to’ for a while, as none of us have another 28 years left to wait out the next album.

9.25/10

Tracklist:
01 – Tattoo
02 – She’s The Woman
03 – You and Your Blues
04 – China Town
05 – Blood and Fire
06 – Bullethead
07 – As Is
08 – Honeybabysweetiedoll
09 – The Trouble With Never
10 – Outta Space
11 – Stay Frosty
12 – Big River
13 – Beats Workin’

Buy It At: Amazon

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