REVIEW: Van Halen – A Different Kind Of Truth

Fourteen years since their last full album of original material and 28 since their last album with David Lee Roth, Van Halen finally, triumphantly returns with A Different Kind Of Truth. Sure, Michael Anthony is no longer there, sure Dave’s voice sounds a little more weathered than it did during his original run, and EVH’s guitar tone is fizzier and more distorted than it ever was in the early 80s, but hey, you can’t have everything exactly as it was three decades ago.

“Tattoo” is a weird opener. Personally I like the song a lot, but it feels out of place amongst the rest of the album. It’s a little restrained, a bit flatter in tone than the bulk of the album, which cracks along with rocker after rocker. Much of the material is culled from very early songs, such as “She’s The Woman” (which includes a different middle section to the original demo, since the 70s middle was used in “Mean Streets”). You could see this as a kind of a musical safety net, but it’s also a pretty intriguing way to create a dialog between VH past and present, and, frankly, it works. This doesn’t sound like Van Halen 2012 playing songs from 1977. It sounds like a band who has that era as part of their DNA, but who are playing music for today, for now. Just like they did back then, for then.

“You And Your Blues” almost feels like a track from Roth’s A Little Ain’t Enough album, while “China Town” resurrects part of the classic “Hot For Teacher” feel, and it packs a solo that instantly and forever puts every guitarist in the world in their place. Eddie plays like he has nothing to prove, nothing to lose, and everything to say.

“Blood And Fire” has a bit of a 5150-meets-Diver Down kind of vibe, one of the few lighter, non-scorching-rocker tracks on the album. Michael Anthony’s backing vocals are missed a little bit on this one, but Edward and Wolfgang Van Halen still put in a very VH-esque performance. “Bullethead” kicks off with a bizarre effected intro and a similar vibe to “One Foot Out The Door” from Fair Warning minus the synths. It’s followed by “As Is,” which has a monster reverberating drum sound and some stunningly heavy slow guitar riffage before the tempo picks up to another skittery VH stomper. “Honeybabysweetiedoll” has a bit of an “Out Of Love Again” vibe, and for a moment you start to feel like the band is purposefully recalling classic moments of their past to provide the audience with a level of comfort. Then you hear “The Trouble With Never,” with its funky climbing and falling wah wah riff, and you get a glimpse of a Van Halen you haven’t quite heard before, at least not like this. Then “Outta Space” brings back a bit of the “On Fire” vibe (it’s actually based on song called “Let’s Get Rockin'” on a ’77 demo for Warner); “Stay Frosty” works as a fitting sequel to “Ice Cream Man,” and “Big River”… well… it’s hard to put this one in context with an old-school VH track because it again feels more like Van Halen now rather than Van Halen then. It has one of those classic “It sounds like he’s juggling” Alex Van Halen drum grooves, and plenty of classic Eddie licks – the ascending tremolo picking, the two handed tapping, the pinch harmonics – it’s all here. The album finally closes with “Beats Workin’,” which probably would have worked equally well as the first track. Dave wails, EVH stomps on the flanger pedal, and the closing feedback wail-out recalls the beginning of “Mean Streets” in a way that makes you want to instantly put that album on and marvel at how the hell three guys approaching 60 and a 21 year old can release an album that can stand so confidently with the work of a band in their feverish, hormonally-driven prime of the early 80s.

If there’s a criticism to be levelled against A Different Kind Of Truth, it’s that there isn’t a huge amount of variety compared to, say, Women And Children First or 1984. Where those albums had peaks and valleys, light and shade, A Different Kind Of Truth’s rises and falls aren’t as extreme. Most songs (with a few momentary exceptions) are hard and heavy rockers. But if the worst thing you can say about an album is “Gee, there sure are a lot of awesome hard-rocking songs with killer guitar work,” then so be it.

A Different Kind Of Truth was released on February 3 in Australia, and will be released on February 7 in the rest of the world. Order the standard CD or the two-disc set with four brand new acoustic performance videos  “Panama,” “You And Your Blues,” “You Really Got Me” and “Beautiful Girls.”

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