They’re back. It took 27 years, 11 months, 29 days, 705 tour dates, two new lead singers, and one new bass player – but Van Halen have finally released the long awaited follow-up to their seminal album “1984” – “A Different Kind of Truth”. I have to say, it was well worth the wait.
Van Halen fans have always seemed to fall in two camps – fans of Roth and fans of Hagar. (Let’s face it – we can ALL agree that the Gary Cherone experiment was something that need not ever have happened.) I’ve always found much to like in both Van Halen and Van Hagar. “Van Halen” is one of my favorite albums of all time – and all of the classic line-up albums have done nothing but get better with age. What the band did in their early years laid the foundation for the guitar rock and heavy metal spectacle bands of the 80’s. But, none of those bands did it better than Van Halen.
On the flipside, Van Hagar was the soundtrack to my high school years. “5150” is also one of my favorite albums of all time. With each successive release though, (“OU812”, “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” and “Balance”), the band seemed to lose a little more juice and a little more of the cohesive vision of who they were. Those albums just don’t hold up as well as “5150”. That, more than anything, says to me that Van Halen has really always been Dave’s band.
As I said earlier, Van Halen laid the foundations for much of what was the heavy metal renaissance in the 80’s. With this new album, they have laid out a blueprint for the return of rock to the airwaves. Modern in sound yet retro in feel, the music of “A Different Kind of Truth” puts the lie to those that say guitar rock is dead. Eddie Van Halen is still the king – long live the king.
When the band released the first single, “Tattoo”, many fans where underwhelmed. I’ll admit, it took a day or two, but I grew to really like the song. Would it be what I chose to be the single? No. But it was Van Halen, it was Diamond Dave, and it held the promise of better things to come. That promise was fulfilled with the release of the full album in February. After downloading it, I spent the next week listening to little else. I marinated in it, I breathed it in. In short – I enjoyed the living hell out of it.
Van Halen have done an incredibly smart thing with this album – a thing many other bands could learn from – they gave the fans what they wanted to hear. “A Different Kind of Truth” is not so much the band reinventing itself, as it is the band rediscovering itself. They made a record filled with the best of who they have always been. Familiar moments that fit like an old pair of blue jeans (or black leather chaps and a samurai sword – as the case may be). Gone are the soullessly mechanical guitars, the overly plastic sounding vocals, and the thin melodic content. In their place are the rich guitars of “Diver Down”, the reckless abandon of “1984”, the attitude of “Women and Children First” and the fret board pyrotechnics of “Van Halen” and “Van Halen II”.
Dave hasn’t sounded this good in years. Go back and listen to “Can’t Get This Stuff No More” and “Me Wise Magic” from the Greatest Hits release. His was voice was pinched and processed more than it should have been. Here, we get Diamond Dave to the fullest. His theatrics are not too much and not too little – they’re just right. We get a bit of nonsense, a bit of deep bass spoken word, and a bit of pure metal screaming. He’s shed the Vegas lounge singer just enough to fall comfortably back into the role of mega-band front man. He’s still over the top, but in a good way. Welcome back Dave.
Like many, I was disappointed when Michael Anthony was kicked out of the band. His harmonies are missed on this record. But for anyone who doubted why Wolfgang Van Halen was put in the band, just listen to “China Town”. He’s Eddie Van Halen’s son – and the kid can play. The bass work is crisp, tight, and solid. Mike – I’m glad you’ve found a home with Chickenfoot. For Van Halen – count me as a Wolfgang fan.
Alex anchors the band with just as much power and authority as he ever as. Of everyone, he’s been the most consistent over the years. As soon as he hits that distinctive snare drum, you know it’s Alex Van Halen. Whether it’s the hard driving shuffle of “China Town” and “As Is”, or the laid back groove of “The Trouble With Never” – Alex remains the rock on which Van Halen rests.
That leaves Eddie. What can you say about Eddie Van Halen that hasn’t been said before? He’s been the standard by which all other rock guitarists have been measured for over three decades – and yet he still steps up his game here. He takes all the pent up expectations of legions of Van Halen fans onto his shoulders and rockets past the bar they set without so much as a peek in the rear view mirror. Every song rings true with what has always been best about Van Halen – Eddie’s love of playing guitar. With this album, Eddie reminds us just why rock bands need guitar gods.
I know there has been a good bit of trepidation by the Van Halen nation leading up to the release of “A Different Kind Of Truth”. Could they recapture the old magic? Could Dave still front arguably the most influential rock band of the last 40 years? Could they bury their past problems and be Van Halen again? Could they still make good music? The answer to all of those questions is a resounding YES.
Don’t believe anyone who tells you this “isn’t your dad’s Van Halen.” It is – and better. It’s everything you loved about the past with its feet planted firmly on the road to the future. So pull your ‘83 Camaro out of the garage, hit the highway with the windows rolled down, and crank up your iPod – this is music that’s made to be listened to at high speeds on a warm summer night. Tell your family, tell your neighbors, tell your Twitter followers, and tell your Facebook friends – there’s a new Van Halen album out and it kicks ass.
As the first single off the album, “Tattoo” had some fans worried. It’s not the strongest track on the album, but it has grown on me. It’s an interesting commentary on the role of tattoos in today’s society. What was once the province of sailors, bikers, and rock stars has now gone decidedly mainstream. As the song says:
From mouse-wife to mom-shell
In the time it takes to get that new tattoo
Listen to it again and you’ll hear that it’s classic Van Halen. Eddie rips off the first of many blistering solos – definitively letting everyone know that Van Halen is back.
She’s The Woman
“She’s The Woman” brings to mind the driving urgency found on “Van Halen” and “Van Halen II”. It starts off at a breakneck pace and doesn’t let up for the full 2 minutes and 55 seconds. While the song recalls early Van Halen, the guitar work and sound is the closest you’ll hear to Van Hagar era songs on the album.
You And Your Blues
This is the first song where you really miss Michael Anthony’s soaring background vocals. There is a lot for Eddie and Wolfgang to hold down on this song in the vocal department – and while they do an admirable job, it’s still not quite the same. Dave is pushing the upper limits of his register during the chorus, but it works. Not a bad song, but not one of the standouts. It takes you on a tour of obscure and some not so obscure blues references in the lyrics. Dave recently said about this song, and blues in general:
In fact, if you’re going to speak blues, I’m going to give you a lesson now. You don’t really have to make any sense at all. It’s better if, at the end of the phrase, you throw in something a little bit larcenous. Larceny is like hot sauce – it goes with everything.
I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds profound.
This has become one of my favorite tracks. As I mentioned before – if you had any doubts about Wolfgang’s abilities on bass – listen to this song. Not only do he and Alex lock in to a furious shuffle for the entire song, he also matches Eddie note for note in a few places (the opening riff and the end of Eddie’s solo to point out a few). The music is so aggressive and tight, I couldn’t even tell you half of what Dave’s singing – for that, check out the video below. Dave will explain it.
Blood and Fire
This is another of my favorite tracks on the album. Of everything, I think it has the most potential to be a true single. The verse is catchy and melodic, while still maintaining its rock credibility. It also has one of my favorite spoken word moments from Dave:
Told you I was coming back.
Say you missed me.
Say it like you mean it.
For those three lines alone, it’s a song that needs to be played live – to give the fans their chance to give Dave his due and celebrate his return.
At first listen, this was not one of songs that stuck with me. Over time, though, I’ve listened to it enough that it’s beginning to make an impact. It’s got an “Atomic Punk” vibe to it in many ways. Alex and Wolfgang are very much in the pocket for the entire song, and it delivers one of the better lyrical moments of the album on it:
If everything is going your way,
You’re facing the wrong way.
By the way, the song’s lyrics also provide the album’s title – “A different kind of truth”.
This song is a fan’s delight – chock-full with echoes of previous Van Halen songs. Alex opens this song with his best drunken count down, then the band rolls into an “Everybody Wants Some”-esque opening. The song then powers into a double bass drum driven frenzy taken straight out of “Hot For Teacher”, followed by a solo from Eddie filled with hammer-on riffs that would have been at home in “Eruption”. Next up, Dave breaks things down over another “Hot For Teacher” inspired guitar moment. It’s an album’s worth of references in a single song.
Even on a great album, one song has to be your least favorite. This is it for me. It’s the biggest departure from the rest of the album in both feel and execution. This is Dave at his best, and worst – speaking and singing lyrics that I’m sure where poetic in his mind. Think more “Me Wise Magic” from the Greatest Hits album, instead of classic Van Halen. (On a positive note – I did like the random dog bark in the middle of the song…)
The Trouble With Never
This is one of the stronger songs on the album – and another of my favorites. It’s just fun to listen to. As much as he missed on “Honeybabysweetiedoll”, Dave is at his best on “The Trouble With Never”. He’s in full Diamond Dave mode, and still able to pull it off without a touch of irony or self-doubt. He also asks a question that sums up how I feel about this album:
When you turn on your stereo
Does it return the favor?
With “A Different Kind Of Truth”, I’m excited and optimistic about rock music. Thanks for returning the favor.
This is pure Van Halen, circa 1977, at its best. Eddie brings a raw and full sound that pays homage to “Running With the Devil”. I’ll be honest – I don’t really care for the lyrics or the message of the song – but that’s okay. I’m not really sure the song makes that much sense in the first place. Just close your eyes, tune out Dave’s words and just listen to the sounds he and the band are making. It goes down smoother than a wine cooler at a high school dance.
No question – this is my favorite song on the album. If you like “Ice Cream Man”, you’ll find much to like here. Eddie lays down an acoustic track to Dave’s meditation on world religion. Don’t let that scare you – the song’s really about staying cool (as Dave’s dad used to tell him). After two quick verses of acoustic goodness, the band comes in with an infectious and heavy shuffle that takes the song to another level. After a brief acoustic refrain at the end, the band ends the song as only Van Halen can – in true “fire the confetti cannons, strobe the lights, throw your pick to the audience, and let’s go crazy” fashion.
“Big River” brings to mind “Running With The Devil” a bit in its intro. The song would be forgettable, but for it’s incredibly catching chorus. Only three words long – “Big river, Rollin’” – the chorus is impossible not to sing along with, and equally as impossible to get out of your head three hours later. If this is what passes for “filler” with Van Halen these days, I’ll take all they can churn out.
Once you listen to “Beats Workin’” you will be hard pressed not to think of “Feel Your Love Tonight”. It’s a fun song, and great way to end the album – but it suffers from the absence of Michael Anthony’s stellar background vocals. You get a little insight into Dave’s mindset, and the feeling that he’s very grateful to be back in the limelight.
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