Release date: February 3, 2012 (AU), February 7, 2012
For those of us outside of Australia, this coming Tuesday will be our first taste of the mighty Van Halen in 28 years. The classic Van Halen line-up we know and love returns with its first full-length studio effort since 1984’s aptly titled, 1984. The first thing fans should expect is a significant amount of media backlash and harsh criticism. A large part of that will have to do with the band’s admitted revamping of cast off tunes from their heyday back in the early 70s. The rest will simply be the need to judge the fact that they have reunited after all these years. Is this about money or are they serious this time? Let’s face it, Dave and Eddie have not been able to stay on speaking terms for any length of time in years. How long this lasts will be a measure of how much the guys have grown over the years. That said, A Different Kind of Truth should simply be taken at face, er, ear value for what the band has given us today.
In fact, it is disingenuous to call this the classic original line-up. Stalwart bassist Michael Anthony is still hanging out with Van Hagar compatriot Sammy Hagar in Chickenfoot. In his stead is Eddie’s son Wolfgang. Wolfie is a stellar guitarist in his own right, and while bass is not his true passion, he does a very solid job on this album, and his playing really vibes with that Anthony groove.
The album kicks off with the debut single, “Tattoo”, which led to many people writing the album off from the start. Yet there’s no denying the song has a certain addictive charm, and it sticks with you. Roth’s trademark humorous lyrics are in full swing here. The song is said to be a reworked take on their 70’s unreleased track “Down In Flames”.
“She’s The Woman” is a revitalized track from the band’s 1976 Gene Simmons (KISS) funded/produced demo (entitles Zero in many bootleg circles). With a modern production, this is a solid track, that would have fit well on any of the band’s early albums. So nothing to complain about here.
Next up is “You and Your Blues”, a track that harks back to the band’s early 80’s era. In fact this may have been based off an instrumental Eddie had written for a film score circa 1984 (Wildlife). This is a fun number, with Roth’s lyrical play on the Rolling Stones’ “19th Nervous Breakdown”. Classic Eddie riffing and solos.
The intro to “Chinatown” takes us the farthest away from the classic VH signature we are used to. But it ultimately jumps into some serious heaviness, and gives us sense that this is something new, whether it is or not. A fresh feel and arguably the heaviest track on the album.
The aforementioned Wildlife soundtrack resurfaces on “Blood and Fire” with a track once called “Ripley”. The band sounds wonderful here, with great harmonies and a hooky chorus.
The band pulls out an old school 70’s riff for “Bullethead”, another revamped but decent track that could have fallen off the Women and Children First album.
Alex kick’s off “As Is” with his big drums, before the band jumps into a rollicking signature Van Halen romp. Nice breakdown guitar solo followed by some classic Roth talk-rock fills. Think “Hot For Teacher” revisited.
Eddie and Wolfgang get funky on “Honeybabysweetydoll”, with grooving playful track. Eddie’s trademark experimentation surfaces a bit, and his son shines on this one.
One of the album’s standout tracks is “The Trouble With Never”, which finds Roth once again playing tongue-in-cheek with the lyrics, while the band chugs along with that trademark VH style. I don’t recall this riff from back in the day, so this may be all new. Regardless it’s a great track, that reminds us what we fell in love with these guys for.
From the Gene Simmons demos comes “Let’s Get Rockin'” retrofitted for a new era into “Outta Space”. Not bad, but nothing to hang your hat on.
The “Ice Cream Man” is older and wiser these days. He’s living a chill, laid-back life now, and reminds us all to “Stay Frosty”.
“Big River” once again goes back to the Zero demos with a track originally called “Big Trouble”. Good stuff. Classic VH that’s hard not to like.
After a big building intro, the final track, “Beats Working” closes us out with yet another from the early demos. This one called “Put Out The Lights”. Hey, if you’ve already written a decent song, why write a new one, beat’s working, right? I thought Dave would appreciate that.
So there you have it, 13 retread or reinvigorated tracks, depending on your point of view. So often we bash bands for not sounding like they did in the day, or we bash them for not progressing. There’s no winning amongst the fans or critics at times. Here we have an album full of the classic sound but with modern touches. It’s a very solid album that could have been released in the late 70s or early 80s and it would have gone platinum overnight with fans calling it brilliant. Alex still plays some of the most thundering drums around, Eddie is still a guitar hero for every generation, and Diamond Dave still has that over-the-top charisma and king-of-the world grin. With A Different Kind of Truth, what you get is a new perspective of an old picture. Do you still love it as much? Or is it just nice to look at once in a while? Van Halen has given fans what they have longed for, a true reunion with the classic sound. There’s some excellent stuff here, with some average stuff. Just like all their early albums. This is a very good hard rock record full of blistering guitar work, devil-tongued lyrics, and a ballsy rhythm section all pounding along on a mix of mid-tempo and high energy rockers. Everything you’d expect from Van Halen, but less than you were hoping for.