Sunday, February 5, 2012

VAN HALEN "A Different Kind Of Truth"

(c)2012 Interscope Records

  1. Tattoo
  2. She's The Woman
  3. You And Your Blues
  4. China Town
  5. Blood And Fire
  6. Bullethead
  7. As Is
  8. Honeybabysweetiedoll
  9. The Trouble With Never
  10. Outta Space
  11. Stay Frosty
  12. Big River
  13. Beats Workin'
David Lee Roth--Lead Vocals
Eddie Van Halen--Lead Guitars, Keyboard, Backing Vocals
Alex Van Halen--Drums
Wolfgang Van Halen--Bass, Backing Vocals

Well, well, well...some things never cease to amaze me.  Let me start by saying this to all those who doubted...Van Halen is 100% back, folks, and considerably heavier than people probably suspected.  Anyone looking for one of the keyboard-driven ballads that became the standard fare for Van Halen in the Sammy Hagar-era will be sorely dissapointed as there is not even a single ballad on this entire guitar-smoking album.  For anyone who though David Lee Roth was washed up...think again.  For anyone who thought Eddie would never again be able to channel the guitar god that he was (rightfully) built up to are proven wrong.  For anyone who doubted that Wolfgang would be able to live up to Michael Anthony's bass might find yourself surprised.  And for anyone who bought into Sammy's musings that the new VH album was unimpressive...well, I suggest you get it yourself and give it a spin because I am not entirely sure what the Red Rocker was listening to.  This is one smoking return to form for the once mighty Van Halen rock machine!

On this new offering, you get a real mix and match of things.  New album on new label with a new member.  Old songs (several were actually written more than 30 years ago), old (original) lead singer, and the old (classic) Van Halen sound.  A couple of things are missing, also.  Keyboards are a relegated to a supporting role again.  The big arena sound that Van Hagar (sorry, it had to be said) brought to the table has been stripped away and the classic, power-rock of the DLR pre-1984 era albums is back (come on, admit it...songs like "Jump", in particular, were heading in the direction of the Hagar stuff).

If you have been hesitant to give the album a chance after listening to the lead single, "Tattoo", I can kind of understand.  That track is NOT representative of the album as a whole, however.  In fact, "Tattoo" is actually one of the last songs I would have chosen as a single, although it is probably the closest to a Top 40 possibility.  This and "Honeybabysweetiedoll" are the two tracks that I would probably consider to be throwaways on this record, and neither is terrible.  In fact, I would probably encourage album buyers to put in the CD and IMMEDIATELY hit skip to track two and proceed from there and they will then be treated to some of the sonic magic that made Van Halen such a force in the late 1970's and early 80's.  Starting with "She's The Woman" and working throughout the rest of the first half of the album...and two-thirds of the second half...A Different Kind Of Truth reminds people of why this band was so great.  For me, it reminds me of the difference between a hard-rocker's view of the band (the Roth era) and the Top 40, mainstream view of the band (the Hagar era)...and, I guess, the disastrous near-end of the band (the Cherone experiment).  This is what Van Halen was supposed to sound like.  Eddie just tears up the fretboard throughout this album, resurrecting his signature sound and adding just a hint of modernness, mostly on the production end of things.   

As great as it is to hear Eddie shredding again, I have to say the biggest, most pleasant surprise for me was the return of David Lee Roth.  Not his return to the band, necessarily, but his return to being David Lee Roth!  This isn't the same guy that sounded so tired on much of his solo material.  This is the David Lee Roth that hinted at a resurrection with the track "Slam Dunk" on his DLR Band album...only to fall flat for so much of the rest of that disc.  While no one will ever claim that Diamond Dave was the greatest lead singer in the history of hard rock and metal, it is a VERY short list as far as the greatest front men in the history of the genre and many, myself included, put Dave at the top of that list.  This an album filled with songs that are going to slide perfectly into a live show packed with DLR-era hits, and nearly every one of these songs has the potential for Diamond Dave to turn it into a show-stopping spectacle. 

Okay, so now for the million dollar question for a lot of folks...does Wolfgang fill the shoes of Michael Anthony?  Does he belong in more than just his name?  My thoughts?  Definitely.  Wolfie is able to lock into a groove with Uncle Alex throughout the album, more than adequately filling in the backbeat of these tracks, some of which were written years before he was born.  It is obvious he has been versed in the classic Van Halen style and sound, and he more than holds his own.  Is he Michael Anthony?  No, of course not.  But for anyone who was waiting for him to fall flat...keep waiting.

On an album full of great songs, a few definitely stand out.  "Better Than Workin'" is one that instantly pops into my head, especially with it's "I could swear I have heard this hook before" sound, but it is not a rip-off of anything, including old Van Halen just has that feel.  "Bullethead" is a MONSTER of a shredder.  "She's The Woman" and "Big River" are also excellent rockers, "China Town" has an insanely catchy hook, and one of my faves, "As Is" just reeks of the best that Van Halen had to offer back in the day.  Eddie's fretwork on that track, alone, recalls what was so great about those early Van Halen albums.  In fact, as I mentioned, if you abandon "Tattoo", which really isn't terrible, and the almost modern-sounding "Honeybabysweetiedoll", and you can get through "Stay Frosty" (which Van Hagar fans won't likely get, and "Ice Cream Man" fans will likely love), it's hard for me to think that fans of the early years will find anything to dislike. 

Is this the best Van Halen album ever, DLR, Hagar, or Cherone?  No.  It does not top Van Halen I, which I think would be virtually impossible to do.  It doesn't hold the across the board appeal of 1984, either, at least not yet; time may change that as I listen to it more.  I do put it ahead of Diver Down and Women And Children First, WAY ahead of Fair Warning, and probably slightly ahead of II also, largely because I think A Different Kind Of Truth is a more solid album all the way through.  Again, time will tell if any of these new tracks become the next "And The Cradle Will Rock" or "Dance The Night Away" or "Everybody Wants Some", which were key moments from those other early albums.  If this is the end for Van Halen as far as studio albums go, it is going to be a GREAT bookend to a legendary career, and is a far more fitting end than Van Halen III, or even the unfortunate reunion-that-never-reunited following the recording of the new tracks on the greatest hits album.  I truly hope it isn't, but if it is...what a great way to go out.

Rating:  Crank this...and I mean CRANK a blistering 8.5 (a 9 without two very average tracks) and just pray that these rock gods have at least one more album of this quality in them before calling it a day.

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