Following a brief hiatus after a short-lived reunion tour with original front man David Lee Roth in 2007, Van Halen has released “A Different Kind of Truth,” its first record with Roth in about 28 years. The album also marks the band’s first without former bassist Michael Anthony and conversely, is the first to feature Eddie Van Halen’s son, Wolfgang, on both bass and backing vocals.
“A Different Kind of Truth” is Van Halen’s 12th studio album but only its seventh with Roth, aka Diamond Dave. Composed of 13 new tracks, several of which are actually re-workings of demo tapes that predate the band’s eponymous debut album, Van Halen is back with a bolder, much heavier sound that still offers the energetic escape that propelled the band to the top of the music industry in the 70s and 80s.
As a disclaimer, the first track and first released single, titled “Tattoo,” needs to be listened to a few times before Eddie Van Halen’s signature guitar fretting and Alex Van Halen’s rumbling, rhythmic drumbeats really begin to sound catchy. Eddie’s finger-picking style is backed by the steady beating combination of Alex and Wolfgang’s rhythm section. And to top it all off, Roth has lost none of his ridiculous lyrical authorship and good-time demeanor that encapsulates the incredible front man. Shouting lines such as, “Show me your dragon magic,” one can almost picture the grin on Roth’s face, just dripping with his characteristic swagger. As the first single for the album, it was a bit of a disappointment, as the hooks and chorus fall a little flat, but this song gets better with each listen and in no way detracts from the rest of the album. That being said, “Tattoo” is perhaps the weakest song on the new record, which boasts a tone of music that can only be described as fast and even faster.
The second track, “She’s the Woman,” which is a re-working of an extremely early demo, takes off roaring through the gates. Eddie’s rapid-fire guitar solos, Alex’s thundering and booming drums and Roth’s distinctive voice all come together and seem intact after all the time they’ve spent apart. The other re-recorded songs, “Bullethead,” “Beats Workin’” and “Big River,” all run circles around their older demo counterparts and are very well-constructed, blending classic Van Halen riffs with more modern musical finesse.
Even the tracks that aren’t re-workings of early demos sound like Van Halen in their prime. “Stay Frosty” pays a huge deal of homage to “Ice Cream Man” and tracks such as “You and Your Blues,” “As Is” and “Honeybabysweetiedoll” encompass everything that makes Van Halen great.
Roth certainly isn’t the same singer he was back in 1972, but his singing seems far more creative, consistent, even more professional, all without losing his usual flair for the seamless and simultaneous mix of both perversion and good old fun.
However, it’s Eddie who really shines on this album. With every guitar lick, every note and every single song, he seems to push the envelope of his craftsmanship and prove that he can still play like no one else. Whether he is experimenting with wah-wah pedals or rapidly employing his finger-tapping technique, his solos quake and shift into swift explosions of seemingly impossible-to-hit notes throughout the album.
Wolfgang fits right in with the band, carrying on with a familiar style of bass playing that displays the band’s trademark sound and as always, complements Alex’s rapid drum playing. Wolfgang knows what he’s doing and it shows. It’s only former bass player Michael Anthony’s backing vocals that are sorely missed, like on some of the songs where the chorus sections sometimes seem flat in comparison to Van Halen’s earlier couple of albums.
Overall, “A Different Kind of Truth” encompasses everything about Van Halen that it exhibited at its height popularity. The band displays a much heavier sound, but at the same time remains very melodic, and with the re-addition of Roth, skirts the line of being foolish. Ultimately this album finds itself as just an ass kickin’, fun, pure rock and roll record. As Roth sings on the track “The Trouble with Never,” “You never thought about it / but ask yourself later / when you turn on your stereo / does it return the favor?”
For Van Halen fans of the hard-rocking Diamond Dave front man era, the long-awaited “A Different Kind of Truth” definitely returns the favor.
Songs To Download: “She’s the Woman,” “Big River,” “Bullethead,” “As Is,” “China Town”