Track By Track: Van Halen — A Different Kind of Truth
Because I dread the thought of writing yet another album review where I spend hundreds of words trying to frame an album in the proper context, or where I try to find yet another way to write about chord progressions, I’m just going to take it one song at a time and share my first impressions. So here we go with the long-awaited Van Halen album, A Different Kind of Truth.
Let’s do some level setting here before I get into this album.
- I have developed a belated appreciation for the Sammy Hagar era of Van Halen, but I am first and foremost a fan of the original lineup. Those first six albums are immortal.
- I’ve been a David Lee Roth fan for years, and like all of his solo albums. I make no apologies for this.
- I was inclined to like A Different Kind of Truth, and not assume it would disappoint.
- I miss Michael Anthony too, but to quote Goodfellas, “Well, you know what I mean. He’s gone, and we couldn’t do nothing about it.”
- This ain’t 1982 anymore. Three-quarters of this band is pushing 60, which means they were born when Dwight Eisenhower was President. I’m not even 40 and my ass is dragging by late afternoon. So the fact that these guys are still out their touring and recording music like this is pretty damn cool. Just a little perspective for you.
OK, now that’s out of the way. Let’s talk about this here new Van Halen album, the first with Diamond Dave in almost 30 years. It’s good. Like really fucking good. That’s not me wanting it to be good, it just objectively is. If you don’t think so, you probably needn’t read any further. But if you agree, or are dying to read my thoughts on A Different Kind of Truth, let’s break it down.
“Tattoo” — This was an odd choice for the first single, and it’s an odd choice to lead an album that the band must know will be heavily scrutinized. Turns out there’s a bit of bait-and-switch going on here, but we’ll get to that. This definitely has a mid-tempo Balance-era feel to it. I was a little apprehensive when I first heard it, but it’s growing on me with each listen. Man, I really missed Dave’s lyrics in this band.
Dave does the gravely, spoken word bit that he’s been doing for years. It’s a bit of a cover for his ragged vocals, but luckily they use this gimmick sparingly on the rest of the album. Oh, and sweet Eddie solo #1 has been logged.
“She’s the Woman” — I’ve been living with this song for years, as it was a demo from the pre-Van Halen days. I already liked it, and it’s a gas hearing the 2012 version. If the demo was a speedboat, this beefier-sounding take is a frigging battleship. I love hearing material this old filtered through the prism of a much older and more mature band. Eddie sounds completely reborn, people. Believe it.
On a related note, the production on this album is excellent so far. Great separation, no walled-out mixing that I can detect, and the overall sound is muscular to the extreme.
“You and Your Blues” — One of Van Halen’s not-so-secret weapons was their ability to produce driving hard rock with a pop heart. This track is right in that mold. The hook could be better, but it’s a solid song to be sure. Not great, but solid.
“China Town” — Holy crap. If Wolfie is actually playing on this song, then I take back what I said about missing Michael Anthony (except for the background vocals). And hey, let’s welcome back Alex Van Halen kicking some ass on the drums! People would’ve shit themselves if this had been the first single. This is as ferocious as Van Halen has sounded on a record since… well, in way too long. This is one great chorus away from being the next “Hot for Teacher.”
“Blood and Fire” — A much better stab at the hard rock/pop sound than “You and Your Blues.” Dave shines on vocals here, even though he’s clearly at the edge of his comfort zone on the choruses. Love the, “Told you I was coming back line” and how it leads right into some more awesome Eddie shredding. This song and “China Town” are the sound of a band recapturing old magic.
“Bullethead” — Vintage demo #2. This one gets by on pure energy, sort of like “Loss of Control.” It is so damn weird to be hearing these old songs on a new album. I’m gonna have to get used to it.
“As Is” — RRRRRRRRRRRRRAAAAWWWWWWWWWWWRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!
Wow, love that intro. If they don’t play this song live it’ll be a crime. Remember what I said about “China Town” sounding ferocious? This is even more aggressive. Oh excuse me, my face just melted from that guitar solo. Look at that train on the album cover, then imagine it running right over you. That’s “As Is.”
“Honeybabysweetiedoll” — The hot streak continues. That guitar part is nas-tay, and just a little bit inspired by the late Dimebag Darrell in places. If you had any doubt about Van Halen’s ability to sound relevant against modern hard rock, doubt no more. Love the bass sound on this, it’s elastic and hard as nails at the same time.
I cannot find the words to say how much I love this song. There is no way a group of guys this old should be making music this pulverizing.
“The Trouble With Never” — Oooh, me likey the funk! One of the best hooks on the record to boot. Alex and Wolfie are locked in, Eddie’s going apeshit, Dave sounds great… what more could a man ask for?
There’s that spoken word bit in the bridge. Alright, that’s cool. Like I said, it’s being used sparingly. You know what’s not being used sparingly? Amplifiers.
“Outta Space” — This sounds like something from the demo days — simple, driving, fast — but nothing’s springing to mind. Oh well, no matter. I love that Van Halen decided to just go balls to the wall on this album. Nothing really slow, no ballads. They poured everything they had into this, and it shows. Alex sure sounds like his health problems are in the past.
“Stay Frosty” — Definitely an “Ice Cream Man” vibe going on here, at least in the intro. More classic Diamond Dave lyrics. And then the band comes in for a heavy, ZZ Top-style boogie. Very tasty.
“Big River” — Ah, another resurrected demo. This used to be called “Big Trouble,” but maybe they changed it because Dave already released a song with that title on his first solo LP. I can see why some gripe that the band didn’t produce enough new material, but if the music’s good it doesn’t matter. Still, this does spin its wheels a bit toward the end. I would’ve liked for the guys to flesh it out a bit more. Hell, they had a few decades. Still, LOVE that thick, meaty bass sound.
“Beats Workin'” — Ha, they fooled me with that beginning part! Hardcore fans know this as “Put Out the Lights,” only with new lyrics and an altered arrangement. I liked it then, I like it now. I think this is a great choice to close the record.
Sorry, VH haters and die-hard doubters. While I’m sure other bands will release more artistically satisfying albums in 2012, I’m calling this as my album of the year right now. It’s just about everything I could’ve hoped for, even if it took 16 damn years to finally make it happen. It’s great having Dave back, for however long it lasts, but the really cool thing is hearing Eddie at the top of his game again. While his days of reinventing the guitar are likely over, it’s just so much fun to hear one of the masters in full command of his gifts.
There was a time when Van Halen ruled the hard rock world, and for good reason. It’s a very different world now, but Van Halen has once again staked their claim to whatever’s left of it. I for one welcome back our hard rock overlords.
- Van Halen: A Different Kind of Truth – review (guardian.co.uk)
- Van Halen Leadoff Singles, 1978-2012 (popdose.com)
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