The Van Halen story since 1995 is one littered with inter-band squabbles,
questionable personnel changes, wasted talent, and long periods of inactivity. When I heard they were set to release their
twelfth studio album, I wasn’t holding my breath for anything remotely approaching greatness. It’s nice to be
proven wrong! “A Different Kind of Truth” is the sound of a band revitalized, getting back up to deliver the knockout
punch after being down on the floor while the referee is one count away from declaring them down for the count. How did this
happen? Most reunion albums (at their best) are thrown together, formulaic product designed to promote a huge tour--- The
Who & Kiss are recent prime examples.
Out of the ashes comes Van Halen, with not only an excellent reunion
album, but possibly their best since 1981’s “Fair Warning”. Granted, the Van Halen reunion with David Lee
Roth on vocals has had its wheels in motion for a few years now. The band reunited for a tour in 2007 which started off fine,
but soon went off the rails due to Eddie Van Halen’s recurring alcohol and personal problems. The band had been promising
a new album for a while, but no one was holding their breath. Their last album was 1998’s ill-fated VH3, by far the
worst release in their catalog. Before I continue with the evaluation of the new album, I must say that; although this is
the first album with David Lee Roth since the multi-million selling “1984”, original bassist Michael Anthony is
no longer part of the fold. He is replaced on bass and backing vocals by Eddie’s son Wolfgang Van Halen. Wolfgang has
been much maligned, but his bass playing has shown immense improvement from the 2007 tour. The biggest downside to Michael
Anthony’s departure is the lack of his strong backing vocals---an essential ingredient to the band’s early sound.
The album starts off with the lead single “Tattoo”. When
I first heard this track, I thought it was ok, nothing special. It’s a very poppy tune, which makes you think the rest
of the album will be similar. Upon hearing the entirety of the disc, I can see why it was chosen as the first single---definitely
the most hook-laden tune, ready for heavy radio airplay. The second track “She’s the Woman” totally caught
me off guard. This is the heaviest the band has sounded since the early 80’s. The track was originally an early demo.
Wolfgang’s bass carries the main riff. Much heavier than I thought VH could sound at this point in their careers. Next
up is “You & Your Blues”. Here we are treated to some of Diamond Dave’s best singing on the album, with
a chorus which humorously pays homage to the Rolling Stones & Led Zeppelin. “China Town” begins with a blinding
Eddie guitar solo that proves he is still worthy to be included among the greatest living guitarists. “Blood & Fire”
is the closest thing to a ballad. This track actually has many remnants of the Sammy Hagar era Van Halen in tone and style.
That is not a knock. Yes, the original Van Halen was the best, but the much maligned Van Hagar era produced some great work.
The next two tracks, “Bullethead & “As Is”
are heavy & fast enough to give countless punk and metal bands a run for their money. The former track does run into some
problems. Although Dave can still sing, he does run into some vocal problems when trying to sing in a higher register. “Honey
baby sweetie doll” is kind of an experimental track, featuring weird effects from Eddie, and stream of consciousness
vocals. “The Trouble with Never” may be the weakest track on the CD. Pleasantly mediocre. We’re back to
the ultra-heaviness with the next track “Outta Space”. This is followed by the re-write of the Van Halen classic
“Ice Cream Man”. This tune, “Stay Frosty” shows why David Lee Roth was one of the greatest frontmen
in rock. It is the perfect showcase for his humor and philosophy on life. The last two tracks “Big River” and
“Beats Workin” are mid-tempo hard rockers that VH has done so well over the years.
A great recording when very few people were expecting a mediocre one.
Let’s hope egos don’t destroy the relationship between the Van Halen brothers and Roth. Who knows what the future
holds, but for now we can confidently say Van Halen is back!
See Also: Van Halen - Tattoo - Music Video [YouTube]
About the Author: Joe Lamere has been
a music fan since hearing his first Beatles song at the age of 6. He is our resident music reviewer. In his spare time
he play bass with national touring musician Chris Wilhelm, and has also appeared as a free lance musician on many studio recordings.