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Album Reviews : Van Halen – A Different Kind Of Truth

By on May 5, 2012

What better way to signal the return of Van Halen and the return of David Lee Roth to the fold than to quote a line from an all-time VH classic Hot For Teacher:
“Hey, I heard you missed us. We’re back!”

Van Halen’s first new album with David Lee Roth on the mic in nearly 30 years has finally dropped and the results are surprisingly good.  I say “surprisingly” as no one really though that DLR would return to VH, and if he ever did return the chances of them working together long enough to release an album before imploding were slim. Well, not only do we have a new VH album with DLR, but it’s not the total train wreck many people / critics / fans were expecting.
“A Different Kind of Truth” is almost entirely culled from unpolished, unfinished and unreleased work the band had written in their heyday. This was met with some criticism (not least from a jaded ex-singer who shall remain nameless but has the initials Sammy Hagar) and called a “copout”. To these ears though the results speak for themselves. Van Halen wrote the book on hard rock in the 80’s and revisiting some unused pages in that book ensures that the legacy of the band is not tarnished. Thankfully, these songs do not sound like old men ripping off their history and hanging on to what’s left of their fan base. In fact these songs sound “fresh” and updated (having heard the original demos over the years). So how does the album stack up as a whole?

The choice of “Tattoo” as the lead single and album opener was not a good choice. It may have more to do with the fact that “Tattoo” is the most commercial-friendly and accessible song on offer here. Still despite being the opener it’s the low point for an otherwise good album. For me, the album really starts with “She’s The Woman”. Which taps into the 80’s spirit with some very slick interplay in the intro between Eddie Van Halen and his son Wolfgang on bass duties. This song comes complete with a vintage VH solo which sees Eddie showing the young upstarts he is still the king. “She’s the Woman” sees DLR in fine form and brings back some of the classic VH lyrics which are as big a part of the VH history as Eddie’s solos and Michael Anthony’s backing vocals. It’s all there – the grunts, the little wailing asides, the random background “Whooo!” and “Yeayaa!” accents peppered around Eddie’s volleying squeals. From here on in we know that if VH can keep this groove going, they are back!

“You And Your Blues” is the albums most noticeable nod to the Van Hagar era and could easily have appeared on the “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” album. Most of the VH trademarks are here especially with the background vocals being a constant presence and Eddie pulling every trick out of the bag but this the calm before the storm as the album highlights is up next.

Van Halen’s legendary tapping kicks off furiously in “China Town” with a very noticeable nod to Beethoven much like VH “I” and “II” albums. The band is on fire throughout this relatively short (and sweet) track. This one will have bedroom guitarists holed-up in their room for month on end trying to work it out. China Town is not alone in this regard as “Bullethead” is another 2 and a half minute Eddie showcase. The first real obvious example of “recycling” some earlier material shows up on “As Is”. This really is “Hot For Teacher Pt 2” in that it has the same feel and could easily have replace HFT on the 1984 album. Is being compared to seminal hard-rock classic a bad thing? Hell No!
There are a lot of songs on offer here that “hit” the mark, but there are also a few glaring “misses”. Along with “Tattoo” we are given “Honeybabysweetiedoll” which sits out of place on the disc. Not that it is necessarily a “bad” song but it is made to look rather average as it is bookended by two of the albums stronger tracks in “As Is” and “The Trouble With Never” on either side. The later, “The Trouble With Never” is a little different from the rest of the material on this album. It is very funky and from the opening riffs, had you not known this was a VH album, you would swear it’s Nuno Bettencourt shredding on a new Extreme album (Disclaimer…Extreme is a fantastic band and if you only know them as the “More Than Words” band, then please listen to Pornograffiti and the debut in their entirety and see how great they really are…skipping MTW of course). Anyway, “The Trouble With Never” is probably DLR’s highpoint on this disc. Sure he hasn’t got the higher register in his voice that he used to have, but he still has that swagger in his voice and lyrics which leave many of his contemporaries in his dust.

“Stay Frosty” is “Ice Cream Man” Part Two and is surprisingly successful. Much like its predecessor on the “I” album this track starts off with a swamp-blues swagger with just Eddie and DLR jamming on the intro, but it doesn’t take long before this is kicked into full gear with some excellent work from Alex Van Halen and a solo that will put many a blister  on many a guitarists hands!
Rather than go through every track’s it’s best to note what does (or doesn’t) work on “A Different Kind Of Truth overall:

1: “A Different Kind of Truth” is a fine album but it is not as good as Van Halen’s seminal albums, like “I” or “1984.” But expecting this new album to be an all-time great is expecting too much. Taking it for what it is and the time that has passed since the VH’s and DLR were last together this is an album that could have quite easily been a train-wreck but against all odds it’s a solid album from (almost) start to finish with very little filler.
2: Eddie is still great and sound refreshed and alive on every track here. He’s even bought back the classic VH “brown sound” (the guitarists reading this will know what that is). Basically this sounds like early-era Eddie updated for the 2000’s. Main point here is that he is sounding like he is having fun playing again.

3: David Lee Roth sounds fine. However after 30 years his voice is not the same in that he doesn’t really go for the higher notes anymore. It is what it is but is a slight shame that a lot of Eddie’s fine work is offset by some of DLR’s spots here. Many of the background vocals and riffs could have done with the trademark DLR falsetto which has long since deserted him and especially the background vocals f Michael Anthony….speaking of which…
4: They need Michael Anthony back. Wolfgang does a fine job in pulling off the bass duties (actually better than I thought h would…I wonder if it’s not Eddie playing the bass on the record??). They need Michael Anthony back if only for the backing vocals. Anytime the band goes into the high register gang vocals is torturous. MA’s backing vocals were such a huge part of the overall classic VH sound and they are an obvious omission here. Songs like “She’s The Woman” would be an instant HIT cult classic if it had the MA backing vocals.

5: Van Halen can still compose great rock n’ roll but it’s their short and sweet songs that work best. Songs like “China Town,” “Outta Space” and “Bullethead” are all around the 3-minute mark and are fantastic cuts as the band doesn’t have a chance to stray off into experimental territory. Once the songs pass the magic four-minute mark, we start to get more of Alex’s drumming (meh), Wolfgang’s bass (meh), and Dave’s two-decades-on range (ouch).
6: While this isn’t a Van Halen classic (see point #2), “A Different Kind of Truth” is still a surprisingly good album. This album has many of the trademarks that we have come to know and love from VH– from Dave’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics through to Eddie’s definitive solo’s and trademark signature licks and sound – to please any Van Halen fan over and over again.

“A Different Kind Of Truth” is an album that tips its hat to the VH legacy without completing destroying it. The band sounds refreshed and rejuvenated with Eddie in particular putting in one of his best all-round performances sing the “F.U.C.K” album but as good as it is it also raises some questions. For example, It’s a good album but what would it have sounded like if Michael Anthony had still been in the band? With most of the songs being rehashed of unreleased demos, what would an album of all “new” VH material sound like? Overall “ADKOT” is a worthy addition to the VH collection. It’s a solid album and when it’s good, it’s VERY good but at the same time it’s always going to be compared to other DLR era album which is where it falls short.  7.5/10

Band: Van Halen
Album: A Different Kind Of Truth
Year: 2012
Genre: Hard Rock
Location: United States
Label: Interscope

Tracklisting:

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’

About

Nick is a dedicated and lifelong metal / rock fan ever since he heard Kiss Alive when it first came out. His tastes extend from anything and everything from AOR, to power metal, to thrash, to death, to progressive rock / metal, to melodic rock. Chances are if the band exists....Nick knows of them! (some might say he's metal obsessed).