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Van Halen – A Different Kind of Truth

on February 06, 2012, 8:00am
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“Cool” gets thrown around a lot, but most critics and fans alike wouldn’t ascribe the word to Van Halen – not even frontman David Lee Roth. In a recent interview with The Toronto Sun, Diamond Dave admitted, “We were never cool. Even when we were happening, even when we were the flavour of the week the first time, we weren’t cool. John Travolta and Saturday Night Fever were cool. And across the street, The Sex Pistols and The Clash were cool. We were just kind of an island.” That’s some pretty bold insight coming from a guy that’s renown for his sparkling spandex, beach-stained, sprawling hair, and cheeky sailor outfits. (Just Google him.) Truth be told, he’s not just being modest or self-deprecating, he’s right on the money.

From its inception, Van Halen has always been the proper escape for adolescent males. They trademarked a sound that essentially offered the greatest party anyone could find. They were many a teen’s Friday night fiesta, even if said teen never left the house. You didn’t have to “get” the spandex, but you could soak up Eddie Van Halen’s convertible cruising riffage or Roth’s over-the-top hysteria for all things fun ‘n’ games. To counteract Jacobean poet John Donne, Van Halen were an island, all entirely of itself. Forty years later, we’re still apt to take an Oceanic flight over its rough terrain. What? No Lost fans?

A Different Kind of Truth is Van Halen’s twelfth studio album, but only their seventh effort with Roth. It’s been nearly 30 years since they issued their last Roth-led album (1984) to the world, and since then, the band has seen its routine shake ups. They continued their success with Roth follow-up Sammy Hagar, and when that spoiled after 11 years together, they tried their hand with Hagar follow-up Gary Cherone (of Extreme), which ultimately resulted in their dicey, critically-panned eleventh LP, Van Halen III. Although its lead single “Without You” charted at #1 for six weeks, the band has largely ignored Van Halen III, even forgoing any of its tracks for later greatest hits releases. So, in many ways, A Different Kind of Truth offers a breath of fresh air – or, at the very least, an exciting new chapter.

Actually, if Van Halen’s story were one day collated into some big, greasy biography (and it will), one might peg this era as that mirthful chapter to close out the book. Things feel right, as evidenced in last month’s reunion gig at New York’s Cafe Wha?, which had critics like Sasha Frere-Jones and Chuck Klosterman reeling. In fact, Klosterman titled his review piece, “The Incredibly, Insanely, Undeniably Awesome Return of Van Halen,” but most of his readers probably weren’t surprised by his fan-like exasperation. Frere-Jones, on the other hand, offered a little more objectivity, concluding that “only a Grinch would pass up the chance to see them at least once.” However, on the topic of the new LP, he also stated, “Only the magical thinker would expect the new album to be a necessary addition to their catalog.”

He’s right. A Different Kind of Truth is hardly necessary. The band could easily hit the road without new material – and they did, back in 2007 – but in hindsight, their catalog would always end with Van Halen III. Granted, there are hardly any fans that consider the album canon (sort of like how cinephiles neglect to acknowledge Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), but doesn’t a reunion rock record to champion make for a better ending? It does and Van Halen has accomplished just that. Over 13 tracks, A Different Kind of Truth offers the same youthful escape that sold the band to millions worldwide over 30 years ago. Roth hardly sounds geriatric, Eddie’s solos repel, quake, and tremble, Alex’s thundering percussion remains intact, and Eddie’s son (and the band’s current bassist), Wolfgang, fits right in. Even without Michael Anthony, the harmonies warm up each track in trademark fashion, cementing this as a genuine Van Halen effort.

There’s a reason for that: A good number of these tracks stem from older demos. One might consider that a cause for alarm, but it works to Van Halen’s advantage here. “She’s the Woman” dates back to a 1976 demo that signed the band to Warner Bros., and it sports the album’s catchiest chorus, recalling the sunny decadence of “Beautiful Girls”. A track like “Blood and Fire” has ties to the band’s score for the 1984 film The Wild Life, yet decades later it swells with flavor, namely due to Roth’s knack for cheese: “Come back when you’re younger/’cause I can feel the thunder/1-800-Guitar.” It’s absolutely perverse – borderline idiotic even – but it’s plain ‘ol fun. Then there’s “Big River”, based on the oft-discussed “Big Trouble” demo which has circulated amongst fans for years, and was actually originally intended for Diver Down and then 1984. This soulful rocker oozes of late ’70s hijinks and the thudding basslines and stormy percussion work off Eddie’s strongest guitar work on the album – not the other way around. “Beats Workin'” culls its energy from past demo “Put Out the Lights”, another lost gem off that Warner Bros. tape, and closes out the album with clamorous focus.

Some of the backpedaling doesn’t work, however. Take lead single, “Tattoo”, for example. Between Eddie’s uninspired, sluggish guitar lines and Roth’s slightly awkward lyrics, the whole thing, while catchy, doesn’t sit well. Neither does “Outta Space”, which dates back to 1976 (see: “Let’s Get Rockin'”) yet paces around like a muscle car with a flat tire – also, nobody wants to envision Diamond Dave setting up his Facebook page, either. “Honeybabysweetiedoll” or “The Trouble with Never”  might have worked in 1999, maybe with Gary Cherone even, but now they’re just dated and ugly. One could argue the same for “Bullethead”, especially with its sludgy into, but its Motörhead-fronted-by-Roth vibe offers plenty to love.

A number of fans will revel in Eddie’s killer licks, but the true hero here is Roth. It’s quite clear that the lanky frontman has been waiting for years to really let loose, and A Different Kind of Truth offers him plenty of opportunities. On “Stay Frosty”, the proposed sequel to “Ice Cream Man”, the bluesy track innately frames just what this reunion has accomplished. It’s that long-awaited chapter that finds Roth back on his island, holding his conch, and leading his incredibly fractured family – yet instead of lamenting, he’s partying like there’s no tomorrow. “I’m doing the victory dance,” he states proudly in “Blood and Fire”. Really, what more do you want from a reunion record, especially one by Van Halen?

Essential Tracks: “Blood and Fire”, “She’s the Woman”, and “Big River”

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15 comments

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nielsey
April 15, 2012 at 7:46 am

Just know i love it,if you dont your problem.

tod
February 15, 2012 at 8:24 pm

A Different Kind of Truth with its metal flavor brings Van Halen full circle. The most versitale band ever !….they have conquered rock, pop rock,hard rock and now metal…. even more……….Eddie never ceases to amaze……if hes not the greatest ever(he proves it on this album………..again) there is no greatest!!  

al
February 14, 2012 at 12:49 am

I agree with you lancelotlinc, the sound quality is lame…just listen ton the Ted Templeman produced albums which are bright and punchy.. The new cd is also overmodulated. I lowered the db’s  and eq’d evey track with my coole edit software and now the tracks sound clean and punchy as MP3’s!!

Anonymous
February 7, 2012 at 10:36 pm

How can you review an album , when quite obviously you have not really listened to it, at least a few times, made evident by you getting the lyrics wrong, It is 1-800- Its Time ! Sorry dude but find another job cause you don’t know music or art, and this album is a work of ART !!! These guy’s sound incredible ! They reached into the past and tied it up with the future, result, a GREAT rock album that shakes you and makes you want to move your feet. The lyrics are witty and D.L.R. and E.V.H. go together like P.B. and Jelly.  Find a different gig dude!!

Michael Roffman
February 7, 2012 at 10:56 pm

 Actually, you’re referencing a different song where he uses the “1-800″ line. The “1-800-Guitar” line is in “Blood and Fire”, which I’m discussing there.

JJB8420
February 22, 2012 at 11:48 am

 Um, no Mike your wrong.   If you listen to Blood and Fire and read the lyrics on the liner notes to the CD, you will clearly see in both places that it is “1-800-its time”. 

Mucci121369
February 7, 2012 at 8:24 am

I’m only a few looooong hours away from finally hearing this album (can’t wait!!) but I just wanted to say that I don’t understand everyone’s problem with “Tattoo” (the only song I’ve heard so far). It took a few listens to register with me, but with each listen it’s grown stronger in my mind. I think the lyrics are great and the solo is also memorable, and the chorus (which sounded undeveloped to me at first, now sounds perfect). If every song on the album turns out to be as good as that one, then I will definitely be happy. And if every song is better than it, then I will be about as excited as any longtime DLR/VH could possibly be. This is probably the most anticipated album in my entire life. I can’t believe it’s been 28 long years since the day I went out and bought “1984.” The wait is finally over…

Scott
February 6, 2012 at 2:02 pm

pinch me.

Sam Sneed
February 6, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Definitely necessary. There is so much here on this album that breaks up the dull of today’s pop/rock/metal music scene you would have never been able to say to someone, “listen to this Van Halen I, II, from 78 79″ to see just how music could/should be. And you couldn’t have said go listen to the Hagar version to see how fun Van Halen was. A new release was necessary and it comes off briliant. Roth is the most briliant Master of Ceremony in Rock History and Eddie probably the most brilliant guitarist in decades. The band sounds young and fresh and I was always ready to hear more van Halen post 1984.. the insult to the ears was Roth wasn’t it. I hope they keep digging from Eddie’s 10 albums of unrecorded material!!

Bravo Guys! 

Fastnbulbous
February 6, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Actually, I’d say between ’74 and ’77 Van Halen were pretty damn cool. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xeb38dOjtdw

Yflm66
February 6, 2012 at 12:27 pm

 Not sure what this guy is listening too but its not VH — he seems like more of Huey Lewis fan to me……….I wanted to write a review for people who may wonder what this album is all about in the way of the VH sound – Tattoo spooked a couple of fringe people and old school heavy metal/hard rockers thinking it was going to be on the mild side – that would be a huge, huge, sinful mistake…………if you ever liked the original Van Halen at anypoint in there career from VH1-Diver Down (I did not include 1984 although it is a classic album and can be included – I think a lot of new fans came aboard at that time and liked more the popular cuts Jump, I’ll Wait, Panama…there is classic VH tunes on this record along with the great songs mentioned, you just have to dig deeper……..Top Jimmy, Drop Dead Legs, Girl Gone Bad, House of Pain….so I didn’t inc;ude because I don’t want to confuse them there is no I’ll Wait or Panama…….Tattoo is the closest you get with a Jump appeal to it). I make a lot of comparisons to their early works in my reviews because there is no denying the musical references, this is not a lets move into the future type of record they want to recapture the classic vibe and we are lucky enough to ever have another record they can progress from here IMO…. So here is my review for those who want to know what they’ll here on the disc and how it stands up to the classic era…………oh and it does!!!!! Stay Frosty, Bill H 

Tattoo

 

You got to love the lyrics in this one, this has all the sass
of DLR and the classic VH spirit (“Pretty Woman” type of appeal to it – not
sound but appeal)– its what the other versions of VH after Dave left lacked –
they changed the whole band feel in that period – not that it was all bad but
nothing like the original attitude and feel (the Sammy period really should
have been called Van Hagar, that is not being wise its in fairness to Sammy
and the sound during that era)…. this song is very assessable to the ear
and has a lot of Tattoo’s being sung in there but it’s a feel good tune that
works well for the older aged version of VH (meaning mainly Dave and Alex)…
the one part of this song that is a bit weak is that little keyboard part the
verses, it has the sound of Robert Palmer “Addicted To Love” but you overlook
it because Dave is having fun with this one and he is back with a bag full of
different……..

She’s The Woman 

 

This track has the early VH I & VH II sound, especially in
the chorus harmonies and melody (which would make sense based on the fact
that the majority of it was written before they were a signed band) the rest
musically is very similar to a “Mean Street” and/or “Outta Love Again” with
“Somebody Get Me a Doctor” backgrounds (the two syllable sung harmony for
Woman and Doctor sound identical), in fact the old guitar bridge break in the
original version went on to be used in Mean Street,  it is easy to get your head around this
track listening wise –but its this too similar to other past works by VH and
could have used those old DLR primal screams to give it a bit more impact,
also a more gritty drawl vocal from the days of yore, as opposed to the
higher range notes Dave tries to go for, also a bit too many lyrics jammed
into this one for my taste, it seems a bit rushed- this my least favorite
track on album…but not too bad for an album that is 9 out of 10 stars….

You And Your Blues

 

This has the 1984 and dear I say it 5150 sound to it
instrumentally, also a touch of “Hear About It Later” and “On Top of the
World” on the background vocals, this is the only song that is somewhat
reminiscent of the non DLR era……Dave has a lot of vocals on this one and does
a great job ……I miss those screams but I am sure he does too……….

China Town

 

Oh I gotta tell you this tune rocks so freakin hard its really
a statement to the rock world………Alex on the double kick again……heavier than
“Hot For Teacher” this song could easily fit on any VH past album also has
that DLR solo “Bottom Line”(chorus only)” and “Showtime” appeal to it… The
whole band is kicking seriuso butt on this song ……………DLR leading the boys
with a great vocal……LOVE THIS SONG

Blood And Fire

 

This tune has the “Diver Down” wash all over it….in the vein
of “Little Guitars”…………a great song – DLR sounds awesome on this one and
really made this song come to life with auto-biographic VH lyrics (a lot of
this tune was used in an instrumental Eddie did – Ripley, for an 80’s movie
soundtrack – you get the feeling they just never finished it back then so Ed
through it on that record)…one of my favorite tracks

Bullethead

 

This is in the vain of “One Foot Out The Door” or Loss Of
Control” just a pedal to the metal rocker that is all energy not trying to be
over melodic here (this was an older reworked track that really deserved to
see the light of day) really captures that in your face attitude of the
mighty VH……

 

As Is

 

Alex and Nephew flexing there muscle on this one, another
up-tempo double kick foot and hand stomper, 
Ed is just laying it down on the top layers of this track and all the
in betweens with an AC/DC “Beating Around the Bush” guitar slinger pull off
and on style for the verse…….there are some really cool shout type of
background vocals happening …vey cool dynamic bridge were Dave does his
patented low growl speech and then wham into a way too cool outro were Dave
gives you a  memorable “lalalala”
melody with guitar fade that are absolutely timeless ………makes you feel like
you want to pick up the phonograph needle and play the song again ……….for
those of us old enough to know what I mean. 

Honeybabysweetiedoll

 

This is a modern sounding cut that has the Woman &
Children/Fair Warning punch to it ……Eddie kicks asssssss on this one…. “Dirty
Movies” background vocals and a heavy thump along bass by wolfie…anyone who
doesn’t care for Tattoo and likes there VH heavy this song gives you a plate
full…………yeah I am all in this song!

 

The Trouble With Never

 

Well this one sounds like it could have been a  Diamond Dave solo album cut see “Bump and
Grind” or the cover he did of Hendrix’s “Cross-town Traffic” (not released)
One of Wolfgang’s strongest tracks on album, him and dad are smoking on this
blues/rock riff assault, I can see Dave really digging this tune live… good
change a pace item for the album, a bit of a different feel for VH camp…..I
can think of nothing in there exiting catalog that sounds like it

 

Outta Space

 

Turn your radios on……this has that Atomic Punk vibe…off of VH
1. very cool phrasing by Diamond Dave and placement of melody against a
complete driving rhythm assault by the VH brood – Eddie really delivers if
you didn’t know it was 2012 you would think this tune came out in there
heyday (of course again makes sense since the song framework was originally
created  n the late seventies( A+ SONG)

Stay Frosty

 

Ice Cream Man in the winter baby! A real standout with its
Eddie/Billy Gibbons swag boogie to it and great, freaking DLR lyrics and
vocals – maybe the best produced song on the album real big sound mixing all
the elements of the guitars, vocals and dynamics just right…… keep it cool
man and ………“Better Tie Up Your Camel” Gotta Love Diamond Dave!!

Big River

 

OH Yeah ……there is no need to critique it musically……it’s a
VH1 album cut all the way, this a song from back in the day resurrected, many
people have said for years this was the best non-released song in there back
catalog it could have easily been on the first album……you just can’t help up
but eat this one up its like sweet summer sweat pouring out your radio …and
exhaust pipes 

 

Beats Workin’

 

Its VH II era on this one on a “Dead or Alive” guitar riff
with classic Eddie flanged frills happening……..also has the “Beuatifull
Girls” Backgrounds going on ….Dave’s vocal out in front on this one in the
verse and exposed a bit but man his spirit is all in it, he double tracks in
a few spots and it sounds much stronger and also adds to its appeal……..song has
a really cool “Panama” breakdown towards the end with a “Day Tripper” section
were Ed’s guitar solo just sings an intro line and solos on with wah wah
infusion, then it all  jumps back in to
the “Beats Working” chorus, it all wraps up on us classic whammy feedback
from Eddie and the old echoplex reverb appeal……..

 

 

 

Eaglefly66
February 7, 2012 at 7:25 pm

Dude what an awesome review from a true fan. I love this album, and have listened to it all day. Diamond Dave has aged, but it’s all good. Eddie sounds better then he has in years. Clean and sober is working.

Anonymous
February 6, 2012 at 11:22 am

This is the best pure rock record I’ve heard in years.

Jb
February 6, 2012 at 9:13 am

I disagree.The new album is necessary.
It’s time for some new music from these guys and I expect with the pressure off, even more will follow.China town, one of the new tracks, is absolutely killer.
There is a lot of life in these guys.
It’s pointless to trudge around the world doing all old material when you can still deliver the goods with new material that people actually like.
It’s a rare opportunity that an iconic band can actually add to its legacy and continue but that’s what they have done.The door is opened, and hopefully they can add another 2 or 3 albums of great stuff to that legacy.

Scott
February 6, 2012 at 2:05 pm

about 4-5?lol

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