In 1984, after releasing and touring in support of their album “1984” (review), the biggest hard rock band of all time, Van Halen, parted ways with lead singer David Lee Roth. Only two years later, they hired a new frontman named Sammy Hagar. The general consensus is that it was a pretty bad move, and ended up causing the band to sound like the one thing that you could NEVER call them during the David Lee Roth era, bland. Flash forward to 1998. Having now parted ways with Hagar, the band hired and recorded an album with their third lead singer, Gary Cherone. This proved to be a devastating move for the band, as the album received negative reviews from fans and critics alike, as well as poor album and ticket sales. Now flash forward to present day. It is 2012, and after 28 years of drama and bad decisions, the original Van Halen lineup (sans bassist Michael Anthony), has released a new studio album, “A Different Kind Of Truth“. Now the only question left is, has it been worth the wait?
The lead single and album opener, “Tattoo“, is arguably the worst track to come out of the reunion, so one could be forgiven for getting a sour taste in their mouths from the get go. It is a cheesy and dated sounding track that only serves to add skepticism to the whole affair.
The next track, “She’s The Woman“, sees an incredible turnaround in quality almost instantly. Eddie Van Halen’s guitar wails and finds itself settling in to a nothing short of awesome riff, instantly cueing David Lee Roth’s signature “Woos” and “Yeah yeahs”. It is a fantastic track, and it absolutely baffles me why it wasn’t chosen to be the album opener.
With my initial skepticism almost completely gone, the album goes to the next track, “You and Your Blues“. It’s a solid track that, while isn’t a favorite, does feature some great vocal work from Roth. This merely decent song sets a trend for the next three songs, until the album comes to “As Is“.
“As Is” ups the ante for the rest of the album, and is quite possibly the heaviest song that Van Halen has ever recorded. It starts off with pounding drums, a chugging bass line, and some nice wails from Eddie’s guitar. It sounds something like a drunken Alice In Chains jam session. And just as you’re getting used to the track, it suddenly shifts gears and jumps into a fast paced guitar riff and pretty quickly the whole band catches up to speed. The result ends up sounding a lot like a punkier version of Motorhead’s “Ace Of Spades“. It is a great song that pumps you up for the rest of the album.
Unfortunately, the next two tracks, the horrendously titled “Honeybabysweetiedoll“, and “The Trouble With Never“, only end up serving as a cold shower to the albums’ six song winning streak. “Honeybabysweetiedoll“, as I’m sure you can imagine, is extremely annoying. It is a fast paced, nonsensical romp that quite frankly should have been left off of the album completely. Whereas “The Trouble With Never” has the potential to be something good, but ends up being mercilessly destroyed by some of the most wince inducing lyrics of the album. “When you turn on your stereo, does it return the favor?” ‘Nuff said.
Fortunately, after the previous two song train wreck, the band completely redeems themselves with one of the best songs on the album, “Outta Space“. The song is just pure fun, with some of the kookiest (in a good tongue in cheek type of way) lyrics featured on the whole album, and a nothing-short-of-epic guitar riff. This song is impossible not to love, and is just signature Van Halen through and through.
The next song, “Stay Frosty“, is an homage to one of the bands’ first songs, a cover of John Brim’s “Ice Cream Man“, and while it is cool to hear the band acknowledging their former work, the song is incredibly annoying, and left me not wanting to even listen to the rest of the album. But it’s a good thing that I did because otherwise I would have ended up missing out on the best song of the whole album, “Big River“.
To ONLY say that “Big River” is the best song on the album, is doing it a major injustice. To say that it holds up alongside any of Van Halen’s classics, is definitely a much more accurate assessment. This song is just amazing. Period. The song allows for each band member to showcase their skills, and the results are nothing short of breathtaking. New bassist and son of Eddie Van Halen, Wolfgang Van Halen (who’s backing vocals and bass playing are every bit as great as Michael Anthony’s), thumps away on his bass, while Alex Van Halen compliments him perfectly on the drums. All the while, Eddie shreds like no other on his guitar and Diamond Dave pours his soul into the vocals. This is Van Halen at their finest.
After “Big River” comes the final song, “Beats Workin’”. It’s a very fun track, and it does a great job at ending the album on a high note. It’s also one of the catchiest songs of the bunch, insuring that the song, and thereby the album, will be stuck in your head long after you’ve hit the off button.
The production on this album is very minimal. It has a very raw and natural sound to it, almost as if you are listening to the band play live as opposed to listening to actual studio recordings. There are a few flubs that were left on the album, which in my opinion only serves to add to the naturalistic approach, and overall character of the music. Roth’s vocals in particular are left almost completely untouched, thereby giving back the group’s unbeatably unique vocals that its been lacking for all these years.
The Final Word: Overall, “A Different Kind Of Truth” is a decent album that contains moments of greatness. Unfortunately those moments of greatness are interrupted by four terrible songs and a couple of filler tracks. Being that the album has a whopping 13 tracks, I feel that some of these songs could have been removed as to insure a consistency in quality. Either way though, this is a return to form for Van Halen and it’s been a long time coming.