Van Halen, ‘A Different Kind of Truth’ – Album Review
After more than two decades apart, the Van Halen brothers and original lead singer David Lee Roth have turned in a thrilling and terrific new album, 'A Different Kind of Truth,' which proves that their chemistry together remains a special and magical thing.
The six classic late '70s and early '80s records from the first Roth-fronted lineup of the group set an imposing bar for any Van Halen reunion album. After all the years of traveling separate paths through creative growth and lineup changes, and without original bassist Michael Anthony, it's very impressive how well Eddie, Alex and David have re-connected with each other.
Unlike the two new Roth-fronted songs on the 1996 'Best of' compilation, which seemed like ill-fitting Sammy Hagar-era compositions (and still had their moments -- "Do you believe? / Awww, don't you trust me?"), you can drop the needle almost anywhere on 'Truth' and know instantly who you're dealing with here.
Of course, that's partially because the band very wisely stacked the deck a bit by re-working (or sometimes seemingly just re-recording) unreleased songs from as far back as their mid-70s label deal-securing demos into new compositions. If you think this is cheating, and you can keep that silly "purist" scowl on your face while the rest of us are marking out to songs like the electrifying, chill-inducing 'She's the Woman,' well...we feel bad for you.
'Woman' is one of three unassailable throwback riff-rockers on 'A Different Kind of Truth,' along with the similarly re-purposed 'Big River' (which somehow has a touching, melancholy depth) and 'Outta Space.' Nearly the whole record is surprisingly aggressive and up-tempo, even newer compositions such as the dizzying 'As Is' and the vaguely Iron Maiden-ish 'China Town.'
In fact, it turns out the somewhat picked-on first single 'Tattoo' is about the safest track on the album, and also the only one featuring any kind of discernible keyboards. The only other obvious single candidate would be the sunny, unabashedly sentimental "we made it" anthem 'Blood and Fire,' which finds Roth treading the dreaded line of mawkishness but ultimately landing on the correct side.
Van Halen tackles more mature, sophisticated material with ease on one of the album's early highlights, 'You and Your Blues.' The track starts with a staccato, processed riff similar to (gasp!) 'III's 'One I Want' before heading off into more expansive territory, with some absolutely fantastic group vocal interplay.
Don't get us wrong, in some cases Anthony's trademark soaring background singing is missed, but the current lineup (we don't have album credits, we're guessing partially Eddie's son and new bassist Wolfgang) does a great job filling in those gaps sometimes, too. The relaxed tempo of 'Blues' is also the perfect showcase for Roth's weathered voice, which, admittedly, sounds a bit rough and reaching on some of the faster tracks, although not to any enjoyment-dampening level.
OK, we need to wrap this up. Which is too bad, because there's plenty more to discuss with this record, and it seems safe to say more layers and vocals are going to reveal themselves after a few dozen more listens - are they quoting the Beatles' 'Day Tripper' with that bass line at the end of the album, for example?
But the basic takeaway here is, Van Halen has reunited and made a really damn good comeback album, and there's going to be very little in the way of automatic "new song bathroom breaks" on their upcoming tour.