Van Halen: A Different Kind Of Review Mar 5, 2012 10:19:25 GMT -5
Post by John Sunday on Mar 5, 2012 10:19:25 GMT -5
In 1984 when the refrains of the hit song Jump jubilantly sky-rocketed Van Halen to the top of the singles chart and on to eventual diamond status (10 million units sold), little did fans know that 14 years later, the song’s title would be the verb preceding the phrase "...from the nearest bridge" to accurately describe the impact of the band’s latest release Van Halen 3. Or that 14 years later, only the most diehard fan would refuse to believe after a nearly decade-and-a-half of creative slumber that the once-prolific band wasn't completely dead-on-arrival. It was a bit like having a friend who’s in a coma and you hold onto the faintest hope when everyone else in the room is grimly aware that the only hope is in your head. Then the unthinkable inexplicably happens: your friend not only opens their eyes in some dopey, eye-crusted, memory-lapsed fog, but rather springs from the bed -- with top hat and cane – and dances across the floor singing loudly and confidently, "Hello my baby, hello my honey....hello my ragtime gal!!!" In the immortal words of the infinitely wise Mohatma Ghandi, "Are you shitting me?"
That was pretty much my experience hearing the new Van Halen record for the first time.
Of course it’s easy to fall into the trap of hyperbole given the diminished expectations that were well-earned going into the band’s new album. We hadn’t heard a full Van Halen album with David Lee Roth in 28 years and the past two albums, at least, were met with a reasonable degree of criticism. The final Sammy Hagar record, Balance, did just that, balancing some really good material with some terrible songs. The one and only Gary Cherone album was more likely to be used as a coaster for a glass of iced tea than actually played more than twice and is a staple in used CD sections. So that the word “cautiously” might preface any expectation for a new record was no surprise. And let’s be frank, a “new Van Halen album” was quickly becoming the new Chinese Democracy or Peter Criss’s autobiography, with whispers, rumors, and speculation giving way to yet another fruitless and empty year. (Sigh). The Van Halen world had become a haven for rampant speculation, broken promises, and more disappointingly, broken hearts.
There are a million ways A Different Kind Of Truth could have disappointed outright and the most obvious reason would’ve been just not living up to the hype. This album had “The Phantom Menace” written all over it, Roth’s presence potentially ensuring the band’s own version of Jar Jar Binks ta boot. And given Van Halen’s various sonic sound-scapes, where would the band go? Rumors about Van Halen revisiting old demos were, for the longest time, unsubstantiated and no more reliable than any other rumor. Would the band’s sound be an extension of the last bit of material they had produced, the three new Hagar tunes from 2004’s greatest hits package? Could Roth and Edward even complete an album together of any style or degree of quality without it being accompanied by a charge of capital murder? Van Halen fans may have resorted to sucking on the sand for any hint of water at this point, but that didn’t mean that a tall, dirty-water glass of Van Halen 3 was going to cut it either.
It had to be good.
Well by now most of us have heard it and had the time to absorb it, myself probably 15-to-20 times or better. I wanted to give it a fair shake and get past the utter glee and shock and goofy expression phase in order to write a more informed, less hyperbole-laden piece than “Wow, best album by anyone, ever!” or “I can’t believe anyone would give this piece of junk a high rating. One of the worst things I’ve ever heard from anyone.” I’m afraid one thing I can’t afford the record, no matter how many or few listens – no matter my gush or disdain – is time. Especially in the case of the Roth albums, including the oft-dismissed Diver Down, the catalogue’s reputation is pretty much frozen in carbonite with no chance of Princess Leia thawing them out any time soon. They’re largely loved and unapproachable. You hope that any new effort merely qualifies to stand in the shadow of any of the revered “six pack.”
And as expected, this album is not universally loved, although to imply it’s not going over well with fans would be a miscarriage of justice. With over 540 buyer review comments on amazon.com, a staggering 80% rate the album 4-stars or higher (of 5) for a 4.5 star average review. These numbers are comparable to the time-tested classics of their catalogue. Still there have been nay-sayers and some that in addition to their opinions have thrown around some flimsy or even false talk about A Different Kind Of Truth.
Let’s get some of the obvious stuff out of the way. The most obvious of these and perhaps the biggest question mark would be David Lee Roth’s voice. Last we heard him in the context of Van Halen it was on a couple of eagerly-awaited new tunes on their first hits package way back in 1996, when talk of a reunion first blossomed and then summarily ruptured. I enjoyed those cuts quite a bit and was glad to hear Roth’s inflections and mannerisms back on a couple VH tunes, but his wont to ascend to his former self often burned out the brakes and editing took a back seat to eagerness. And that was 16 years ago, when he (and his voice) was in his early 40s instead of his late 50s. Honestly I braced for the worst, but shockingly I find his voice to be quite spry here and, at times, very much his classic self. Anyone expecting Dave to magically find his early 20s shrill from On Fire or Atomic Punk haven’t been listening, nor have they probably paid too much attention to their other vocal heroes over the years. For example, Geddy Lee has lost most of his trademark shrill and has de-tuned for his higher-range songs and changed his vocal approach on newer records completely to compensate, Robert Plant requires almost entirely hushed tones to come across, Roger Daltry can barely speak audibly anymore, let alone sing, Brian Johnson’s Marlboro throat is now almost uncomfortable to the ear, and the almost eternally-reliable Paul Stanley has been stricken by age and vocal nodes and sounds as if he suffers from a terminal case of hoarseness, just to spotlight a few folks.
The magical thing about Dave on the new record is that he largely knows or was informed to stay in a comfortable range, although admittedly not without fail. His higher registers do note some strain, such as on the chorus to You & Your Blues for instance. However, DLR also balances the range with the emotion of that particular lyric as well, which lends credence to the delivery. I’ve read numerous times in the previous weeks about how all Dave does is talk through this album and that, too, is completely false. Roth carries a number of melodies very well, including the verses to Blood & Fire, not to mention what’s arguably his best performance on the album, Big River. When Roth does resort to his finger-wagging, “c’mere baby” hushed tones and occasional spoken bits, that speaks of both his personality (he’s always done this kind of thing on VH records, lest we forget) and his desire to give the song a certain dynamic. Often those bits come in song breaks or when the song slows down to a lumber. He’s responding the context of a tune when he does this. But that’s not to say Roth’s deliveries aren’t flawed. They are. Time and smoking cigarettes and not being the world’s greatest outright singing talent, historically, have a price, but that does not mean that what’s on the album is therefore devoid of interest, ability, craft, personality, or effectiveness. Roth has constantly overcome his limitations as a pure singer over the past 34 years by infusing his songs with style, charisma, charm, and originality. I never was a fan of Roth’s contributions to Van Halen merely because he could give a Prince-like shriek, squeal, or glass shattering “owwww!!!” I was always more an admirer of those other abilities and intangibles he possessed and those are indeed on display here. The occasional reach for the moon howl might fall a bit flat at times, but even at his worst, it’s far from a fatal flaw.
The other big question was whether youthful Wolfgang Van Halen, who stepped in for Michael Anthony on the 2007-2008 reunion tour with Roth at the barely pubescent age of 15, could hold his own, both as a studio background vocalist and as a bassist. Not that Anthony’s bass playing was all that complex (nor did the band often feature said instrument on album), but we knew nothing of the kid’s ability to write a new bass line; our only exposure to him being live performances, and, frankly, we were all too concerned with making fat kid jokes to focus on his playing to give him anything more than a jolly dismissal. Rumors had persisted that the boy didn’t offer any background vocals at all and that the songs they pulled off live merely had Anthony’s trademark backgrounds piped in on tape. And I have to admit, this aspect of the new album concerned me perhaps more than anything else. Anthony’s vocals are indeed an integral part of the VH sound. Admittedly, though, I find myself missing them a lot less than I thought I would. No, there is no equivalent of the Get Up variety co-vocal or the piercing aspect of On Fire, but – like DLR’s shrieks and wails – that wasn’t the only aspect of the band’s background sound either. In fact, those things were more the exception than the rule if we’re going to properly analyze the band’s catalogue. No super high harmonies in the Fair Warning gem Hear About It Later or Unchained. Nothing like that on Mean Street. More prevalent on any given VH song are the “oooh” and “ahhh” type 3-part harmonies and these extended well into the Hagar years as well. To my great relief, these songs still have those and to such a degree that they brought both a brow-wipe and a smile. Listen to Beats Workin’ for a lovely dose (akin to the chorus in Feel Your Love Tonight), or to the chorus of As Is, with signature Van Halen shout-backs or to the staple harmonies in The Trouble With Never. In fact, I’ll brazenly contend that if Anthony was on this record and critics didn’t have the fact that he wasn’t to point to, it wouldn’t even be brought up. After all, Mike is on Van Halen 3 (vocally) and what’s going on that’s so dynamic and impressive there? Certainly not enough to save a poor album, so why would his absence capsize a good one?
As far as Wolf’s bass playing goes, we magically stumble across the album’s true x-factor. Simply put, the kid is good. Very good. This newfound interest in the instrument on a Van Halen album no doubt is a degree of nepotism at work. It’s Ed’s son’s first appearance on record, but whatever the reason it marks a return to hearing the instrument on album for the first time to this degree since Fair Warning. And nepotism or not, all of Eddie’s “my kid can really play” comments in interviews past begin to bear fruit here. Really it’s not all that surprising, given the genes in the Van Halen clan: father, uncle, grandfather, etc. It’s like being shocked that there are a string of successful Mannings in the NFL. WVH’s technique and context ranges from the usual Van Halen root note thump to things we’ve really never heard before in a Van Halen song. There’s also a bit of solo-sounding DLR afoot too, with playful tandem bass and guitar sections of songs like The Trouble With Never and China Town echoing back to the kinds of things that Steve Vai and Billy Sheehan explored on Roth’s Eat Em & Smile LP. Some of the same kinds of folks who criticize this solo Dave sound-scape on the new Van Halen album have also vocally and proudly said in the past that Eat Em & Smile was the Van Halen album that wasn’t in 1986, as a critical response to the hiring of Hagar. Oh, irony! For the first time since the opening to Push Comes To Shove, the bass gets a couple featured spots, from the slow down in Trouble With Never to the almost Day Tripper-like rumble in the break to Beats Workin’. I’ve read where some have questioned whether or not it’s actually Wolfgang and not Edward himself (which is a compliment to his playing if you ask me), but live performances of a couple of the more complex songs bears this out (literally…on tape, right in front of you), unless, of course, Mike Anthony’s playing is also being pumped in on tape, along with his vocals. No, it’s time to stop calling the kid a “kid” (he’ll be 21 this year), get over focusing on his weight as a means by which to both take shots and avoid discussing his playing, and give him props where it’s due on record and in concert. Wolf hasn’t reinvented the instrument, but he’s a helluva lot better than I was expecting and he’s been given more room to play than I ever thought the band would again allow on album.
The last area of concern was simply Edward himself as the primary songwriter: how inspired would he be or would we be experiencing another train wreck of an effort that we’d seen with VH3? Were these songs going to be old demos (as contended by a few sources) or new or a combination of both? Could that work? Was that smart? Had Ed simply been gone (both literally and figuratively) so long that there was no more fire or relevance?
Some critics, including Hagar himself – sounding a bit like a scorned ex-lover, truth be told -- have dismissed the album as lazy and uninspired, almost all of whom seem to base this assumption on the notion that the album is entirely old demos and therefore required zero effort. That’s categorically untrue. In fact it is a combination of old and new material. To the band’s credit, though, they didn’t just merely dust off a number of half-baked tunes and just regurgitate them half-assed on album for the quick buck. Most of them were reworked to some degree or another, almost all of them lyrically and vocally speaking. Some originally had no lyrics at all. One was just a riff idea and not a full song structure at all. Some had bridges changes, solos refurbished….other times new arrangements of old ideas. So even in the case of recycling, it wasn’t just slap-dash copy and paste work. Regardless, however, the material remains theirs. To my knowledge there’s no expiration date or statute of limitations on how long you can mine the archives, a practice the band has exercised on most of their albums. This wasn’t some re-recording of the early classics, as some bands have done, or taking a crack at updating their greatest hits with a fresh new approach. Kiss has done this, not to mention Styx, Testament, Journey, etc. To me that’s lazy. The fact remains that all of these Van Halen cuts were ideas that were either never fully developed or not deemed appropriate for the album on which they were originally intended. It’s like a piece of a script that you work on that’s solid, but doesn’t fit anything else, so you shelve it until re-inspired to visit it again. The other half of the album (give or take) is entirely new and some of those songs mark some of the best efforts on the album. Even more interestingly, the old and new material mingle well together, unified by the production work.
One technique that helps this marriage is the singular instrument approach. While the production is big, the one very noticeable thing that’s happened is that there are very few overdubs. By Fair Warning, Eddie had become studio savvy and was experimenting with something he’d used to deplore, but now was interested in and that was layering guitar tracks. With the inclusion of keyboards into Van Halen songs, the guitar bed became even more a mainstay. The new album, however, goes back to a minimalist approach and that’s evident when EVH solos. For the first time in a long, long time the only thing under the soloing is the bass and drums and not thick, layered rhythm guitar parts or large space-filling keyboard textures. This may have been inspired by the old tunes they’d refurbished (how else to practice them but the way you used to play them, right?), but it spilled over into how they recorded the new tunes as well. And quite honestly, in today’s world of BIG and MORE as far as recordings go, it’s terribly refreshing to hear that openness that’s created by three instruments in tandem, all audible and all very clearly doing their own thing. It’s a very “live” approach and it’s great to hear this retro technique on a new Van Halen record.
As for Alex and Eddie, they’re on top of their game once again. Truthfully, Alex is almost an after-thought, as I find his playing to be largely inspired on every album, but he notches up the energy on A Different Kind Of Truth. Edward remains the driving force behind the songs, both his writing and his playing, each of which are energetic and exciting again after his tuneless noodling on the Cherone album. His guitar work is as good as it’s been in arguably 20 years, dating back to the Carnal Knowledge album if not before. His warm (brown) tonality is there again as well, ditching the crunchier tones from Balance. The solos are marvelous, sometimes signature, sometimes quite different, but always EVH. Really all that anxiety built up after 1995 through to the nervous anticipation for new Van Halen can be washed away like the sins of the past. Listening to Edward here is a bit like trying on an old coat you’d nearly forgotten about, both worn and familiar, except that the lining has been redone and it’s looking and feeling a whole lot better than you feared it might after so long. Old and new again, all at once.
The culmination of all these things made for a bit of giddy experience, I have to confess. It’s not every day a 42-year-old man will all at once well up with tears, throw his fist in the air, and yell “fuck yeah!!!” while driving (and not cause an accident) because he’s so excited. That doesn’t come from a place of hopefulness or nostalgia. It doesn’t come from a place of delusion or trying to make a tired old square peg fit the round hole (because it has to!!!). It doesn’t come from looking at yourself in the mirror with said coat on two sizes too small, then smile and whisk back your thinning hair and convince yourself how good it still fits when you know it doesn’t. I know that how I felt was driven by the only thing that could be causing it: an almost impulsive, instinctive reaction to being blown away. It doesn’t happen all that often, so it’s not a position I often find myself in, the sad cynic that I’ve become. Believe me, I never once believed that Balance was the bomb. I never once talked up Van Halen 3 as being something you “just have to live with a while” and that “you just don’t understand it.” That’s not to say that things can’t both grow on you or fade in time….or that you can’t legitimately come to love that which does not bowl you over immediately, but it’s very rare that I’m legitimately flattened by a new album. I can’t think of a single reason to believe this will diminish with time either.
As for the songs themselves, it’s a fine collection, varied and interesting, sometimes odd, sometimes straight-forward…always enjoyable and cohesive. Always entirely Van Halen. Since there aren’t any songs I’d single out as missing the mark and because I’ve already addressed the concerns I had going in – not to mention clarifying some of the falsehoods about the record – I’d be doing A Different Kind Of Truth an injustice not saying a little about each tune, which I’m happy to do. After a 14-year absence, a return this strong warrants a proper blow-by-blow.
Tattoo: Well the single got people talking. Some immediately loved this mid-tempo, groove-oriented, keyboard textured number and others had a bit of a fit about it, but the online world was buzzing about the first new VH song since 2004. I think the song is great, although after hearing the entire album I get why some would’ve been more interested to hear a bit more of a classic romp. I think given that this was the first Roth album in 28 years and that there were a number of old school sounding clips on this sucker, I’d have opted out of Tattoo as the first release as well. That said, it’s certainly overly-maligned, some calling it the worst song in their catalogue. Hyperbole is let off the leash once again. The song is groovy, catchy (the whole “Swap meet Sally…” line onward is infectious), and generally well done. The lyrics are great, Roth talking about the various reasons we get tats, from the impulsive (“why are the crazy things we never say poetry in ink”) to the poignant (“…he fought for the unions, some of us still do”). The solo was a good indication of Edward making a nice return to form. The ending includes a warms set of EVH volume swells. Arguably it’s in my bottom third, but it’s still a very good song. That said I’d have made this a middle-of-the-record cut and let it be an album gem rather than the CD’s first outward reflection. Tattoo might lumber in mid-tempo and sacrifice a true riff for a catchy rhythm bed, but the rest of the album would not.
She’s The Woman: This song flat out smokes, from the cool bass run over the guitar lead right into the main riff, you know you’ve entered classic Van Halen territory. In fact you have with this Gene Simmons-era VH demo breathed new life. The lyrics are new, but the leather is broken in. It’s three minutes of trailer trash cock rock glory with a clever sense of humor and a musical attack that aims to knock you off your seat. Lyrically it’s the DLR you’d expect, with lines ranging from “your knight in shining pickup truck” to one that always brings a laugh, “this suburban garbage-a-trois was worth exploring.” Most simply can’t get away with this kind of thing and yet it falls from Roth’s tongue as naturally as Edward lays down a sick riff. Like a session of mid-afternoon delight, this song is begun and done before it gets its pants fully down.
You And Your Blues: The first entirely new track on the album and it’s a keeper. I love the opening guitar phrase and Roth’s verse delivery. That smoky-throated hook is quite atmospheric. Lyrically the song is an homage to blues and rock song titles and lyrics and it works really well. The pre-chorus into the chorus is quite successful. There’s a lot of angst in Roth’s delivery of the chorus and also a little strain, but the two work in tandem together under the blissful background vocals. The fade out ending is a nice touch, with a shimmering bit (keyboards?) over the intro phrase. Has a Hagar-era feel to the music with the typical Roth stylings. Nice and moddy. A bit dark.
China Town: Up-tempo rears its head on this blazing track. Opening with a very cool bit of EVH noodling, the song immediately descends into a double kick frenzy reminiscent of Hot For Teacher-meets-Get Up, but with a darker lyrical (and tonal) vibe. The song is literally about New York City’s China Town, where, apparently, Roth now makes his home. You’ve got to love a song whose opening line after a furious intro is “headless body in a topless bar…” The song would be right at home on Fair Warning, truth be told. This is probably Wolfie’s finest moment on the album, often trading fast licks and playing high on the neck in tandem with Edward, bringing to mind the likes of Sheehan’s Shy Boy on DLR’s Eat Em & Smile. An unrelenting throttle (for those liking their ass-kicking Motorhead style) and one of my favorite cuts on the album. Break out your Alex Van Halen neck brace for this one.
Blood & Fire: Always a band to deliver a top down, summertime track somewhere, the boys come through here on this song that immediately brings Diver Down or 1984 to mind. Specifically Blood & Fire has a Little Guitars flavor to it and lyrics that reflect back on the band reuniting and Roth’s return to the VH fold. The verses are classic Van Halen and feature some of Roth’s best deliveries on the album. In another singer’s hands such lines would fall flat or read as overblown, but Roth delivers a hushed “Told ya I was coming back. Say you missed me…” in a way that doesn’t draw an eye-roll but a legitimate chill. That such a poignant moment is followed by a furious solo (one of Ed’s best on the album) solidifies the song. The tune ends on the same lilting guitar figure it begins with over some signature DLR hums. Really a fantastic song and one I would have considered for a lead-off single.
Bullethead: From poignant back to pounding, this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it oldie begins with a shrill EVH tone before diving into an almost One Foot Out The Door, punk-like riff and tempo. Clocking in at under 3 minutes, it lives up to its punky inspiration. The highlight of the song is the break right before the solo, with Roth seething low “I’m a bullethead” in true early 80s VH fashion. There are TONS of classic moments on this album and they pop up and disappear quickly, and this break is one of them. Nothing overtly complicated about this one. Arguably it’s borderline filler even, but it’s both furious and infectious all at the same time. It acts as an effective (and quick) counter weight to some of the headier, more musical numbers. I laugh at timely lyric, “no light at the end of the tunnel due to budget constraints.”
As Is: Probably the most musically playful song on the CD and one of my favorites for that reason. The song begins with this dirgy slow tempo plod that really sets a certain tone before launching into a really hyper-boogie. In this one Roth croons about accepting life on life’s terms and taking things as they come. The pre-chorus/chorus is incredible, this double-kick monster with signature VH shout backs (…”dropped and chopped Alabama chrome, but what the hell, it runs, so….”). The real surprise comes in the break where the band suddenly drops into this clean guitar and high hat strut under a dry and upfront Roth vocal before a drum roll and chordal descent takes us back into the double kick fury of the pre-chorus. One of my single favorite moments of the record. The tune ends on a long and drawn out fade out. As close to “epic” as the album comes.
Honeybabysweetiedoll: Just hearing the run-on title probably evokes a Hot For Teacher type cheeky tune and lyrically that’s close to the mark. What’s surprising here is just how heavy and dark this song actually is. Another one that could’ve come off Fair Warning, Honeybaby begins with a noodling of noises before Edward launches into this quasi-middle-eastern riff, which is both very cool and quite new for VH. Roth’s voice here is more a delivery method for vibe and attitude and that’s apparent in the second verse, which just oozes over this rumbling staccato phrase underneath it. The hair-raising moment is the guitar break that leads into the solo, which is accented by the drums coming back in on a snare roll and a guttural scream by Roth. The lead that follows is probably my favorite on the entire album and there are plenty of good ones to choose from. It’s an odd little song, uniquely structured and what it lacks in conventional verse/chorus layout it makes up for with its sick ambience. I love tunes like this and glad they were able to find room on the record for oddity like this one.
The Trouble With Never: This song picks up with that same Vai-Sheehan feel you first got listening to bits of China Town. Edward is wah-pedal-happy here and is unashamedly stomping on the box all song long. Wolf follows Eddie’s lines on this one and the father and son have some incredible tandem moments. The song itself is melodic and catchy, DLR oozing more fun lines like “Every Einstein’s assigned a Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber…” The chorus is classic Van Halen harmony. Trouble represents a really nice blending of more progressive guitar playing with a commercial melody. Things change up at the break as the band drops into this low bass and drum rumble with a cool finger-wagging Roth delivery before Ed re-enters the picture with a really superb transitional riff that takes us back to the pre-chorus.
Outta Space: Like Bullethead, it’s a slight number that barely has time to register in your head before it’s over, but Outta Space delivers probably the coolest and most classic hard-rock riff on the album. The tempo blazes as Roth both humorously and poignantly (love his ability to blend humor and “statement” without sounding either ridiculous or preachy) croons about how we’ve screwed ourselves here on Earth and how he’s been a part of the problem. This song is under 3-minutes of not-a-moment-wasted ass-kicking glory. Filler to some because of its straight-forward approach, Outta Space is a first album-era delight to these ears. It might not push any new musical boundaries, but it’s sure a joy to hear Van Halen play this kind of tune once again. How Many Say I burns on a pyre somewhere each time this song is played.
Stay Frosty: The comparisons to Ice Cream Man are both fair and inevitable, but I like this tune a lot more (at least partly because this one isn’t a cover tune). And, in fact, Stay Frosty borrows as much from the likes of Could This Be Magic in terms of the vocal melody, but the blues boogie quality makes the Ice Cream Man point of reference unavoidable. Lyrically it’s probably the coolest song on the album, with Roth taking a cheeky stab at all sorts of religious perspectives as he travels north, south, east and west on a journey. Just about every line is well thought out. The opening verse is a bit wordy, but DLR quickly falls into a comfortable rhythm. Less than halfway through, the song supplants its acoustic jangle for a crunchy blues guitar backdrop and a solid beat. The solo sections are some of my favorites on the album. The song ends on an over the top, drawn out, “thank you Cleveland!!”-like conclusion that literally goes on for half-a-minute. Rolling Stone said of the song’s ending: “It’s ridiculous. It’s obnoxious. It’s awesome.” Indeed.
Big River: Probably the best song on the record and vies for being my favorite as well. The song screams classic-era and features Roth’s best singing from start to finish. The chorus will stick in your head like none other. The solo(s) by Ed are multi-part and multi-style as well and marks what’s arguably a high-point for the guitarist on the record. Had I been in charge of decisions regarding promotion of this album, Big River would’ve been the first thing fans heard over the airwaves. There are a lot of fine choices on the album, but this feels sublimely confident and perfectly Van Halen from note one. There is no mistaking who or what you’re listening to and after the likes of Van Halen 3, that insufferable itch finally gets the long scratching it deserves right here.
Beats Workin’: The album ends with another fine cut, which begins with a lumbering chordal sequence and drum pattern that harkens back to the intro of Somebody Get Me A Doctor, but instead of staying that darker course, a 4-beat high-hat transition takes us into a very classic 70s Van Halen riff. The songs extols the privilege of being successful. One of my favorite lines is “one empty floor stands between the stage and the welfare door.” The classic groove takes a turn with a spotlight solo bass rumble which is reminiscent of Day Tripper before Ed’s almost ethereal guitar chimes in to join him. The guitars in this section (as well as the solo) bring to mind the Hagar-era style of Ed’s work, so what a trip this song is that blends ultra-classic VH riffing with his later-era playing as well. The tune fades out on EVH’s playing and drawn out whammy bar-laden distortion, and I can’t think of a more appropriate way to take fans out.
With no doubt A Different Kind Of Truth is an album I’m pretty sure won’t be relegated to the “I haven’t listened to that for a while” stack. It has the inevitable burden of time working against it, as all modern classics do. Many of us grew up on the likes of the debut, VH II, Fair Warning, 1984, etc. Those have the warm glow of our childhood and carefree summer nights to solidify the memories of our formative years working for it. They’ve had decades now. They’re cemented in the era of big radio and the explosion of MTV, neither of which now seem even remotely relevant in the internet age. They’re encased in an era where multi-platinum was not only achievable, but expected of an artist like Van Halen. And they have the band’s youth going for it as well. But like a well delivered, long-after-the-fact sequel, while Truth might not contain every nuance of a band’s formative years, it’s a whole lot better than it had any right to be at this point and, in fact, it’s better and more genuine than most efforts from peers attempting to do the same kind of thing.
Most importantly it accomplishes what it set out to do: remind the world that Van Halen is alive and well, as are your memories of this great American band. As it stands, A Different Kind Of Truth now makes the infamous Roth-era Van Halen 6-pack a baker’s half dozen instead.
4.5 stars of 5