Van Halen – A Different Kind Of Truth (2012)


When you turn on your stereo, does it return the favor?
- David Lee Roth from “The Trouble With Never”

Reunions are tricky things in the world of rock music. It seems like for every devoted fan who wishes the new music will be a return to form, there are two or three trolls just waiting to slather on the sneering condescention about how everybody is too fat, too old, and just in it for the money. The Van Halen reunion is no different, though the process of will-they-or-won’t-they has gone on for so long that the very existence of A Different Kind of Truth seems surreal.

So there was a big part of me — the part that grew up in the Roth era — that just could not imagine bad music coming out of a Roth-lead Van Halen. Yeah, I wasn’t so hot on “Jump” but I’d sure take it over pretty much everything that followed 1984. Then they release “Tattoo” and I’m sort of on the edge. It was a good start but not exactly mind-blowing, Eddie’s wonderfully tangled guitar solo aside. All doubts were cast away after getting a full listen to A Different Kind of Truth. This is a band returning to form, re-visting some old haunts, and most important of all: having a ton of fun doing it.

Eddie Van Halen is back and making some tremendous noise. Though he did revolutionize rock lead guitar playing back in the day, it was his rhythm guitar that always slayed me. For fans of wild and uninhibited riffitude, Edward unleashes his guitar id all over the place here. From the wicked unison lines on “Honeybabysweetiedoll” to the ferocity of “Bullethead” to the old-school VH sounds of “Outa Space” and “Beats Workin’,” this sounds like Eddie sloughing off the years. One spot in particular gave this dark guitar fan a huge thrill. “As Is” opens with a count-off, a heavy drum intro, and then…sludge. Eddie lays down some sinister chords that brought me back to the days of Fair Warning. The main section of the song kicks in with crazed guitar lines careening every which way. Yes, unhealthy volume levels are required.

I did wonder if the absence of Michael Anthony, his high harmonies in particular, would hurt the Van Halen sound. In truth, that signature sound is still there, if slightly transformed. On the more pop-oriented tunes such as “Big River,” “You And Your Blues, and “Blood And Fire,” the “new” harmonies serve the songs well. The latter tune cracked me up on first listen, with Dave’s hilarious aside: “Told ya I was comin’ back…Say you missed me…Say it like you mean it!”

And what of David Lee Roth? He makes it all work with that unique combination of swagger and goofiness. You might want to say that “Stay Frosty” is a cheap rip-off of “Ice Cream Man.” It does start off as an “Ice Cream Man”/”Gallows Pole” mashup, but by the time the guitars explode to life and Dave ends up rhyming “kung foo fighting” with “get it in writing” you’ll realize you’re having the best time you’ve had since, well…1984.

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Here’s a look back at more of our thoughts on Van Halen’s A Different Kind of Truth. Click through the headlines for complete reviews …

VAN HALEN – A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH (2012): It’s interesting that A Different Kind of Truth doesn’t always go for the easy hook (recalling Fair Warning), something that may surprise late-arriving fans of keyboard-driven pop successes like “Jump” (and certainly the subsequent period with David Lee Roth’s successor, Sammy Hagar). Some of the material requires more than one listen to completely absorb, and Michael Anthony’s cloud-bursting tenor is missed at times. But A Different Kind of Truth has a way of burrowing in. That’s largely thanks to the presence of Roth, of course. He’s always good for spandex-splitting laugh or two. — Nick DeRiso

ON SECOND THOUGHT: VAN HALEN – A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH (2012): I stand corrected – and pleasantly surprised, too. When I went into my first listen of Van Halen’s A Different Kind of Truth, I was expecting a steaming pile of mediocrity. Instead, the album is loaded with big, crazy riffing from Eddie Van Halen. As I listen to the record, I keep coming back to one word – swagger. That could be a complete review of this album in itself. It’s something that the best work from Van Halen has always had, and something that, for me, was often missing in the post-DLR version of the band. — Fred Phillips

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
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    TOM JOHNSON: Finally got to listen to it this morning — and it is incredible. I can’t believe they pulled this off. Sammy, however, is unimpressed: http://www.starpulse.com/news/index.php/2012/01/31/sammy_hagar_unimpressed_with_van_halen . I actually saw a little of the Chickenfoot concert video that Palladia shows from time to time yesterday and even in my mentally numb state yesterday I could see how flaccid that stuff was. Sammy can complain all he wants about VH not writing new music, but the end result is that VH came up with an incredible piece of work and Chickenfoot put out two albums of Chickenfoot. I am, however, a little concerned about what they will do next – if they don’t explode before they get to do another album, of course.

    MARK SALESKI: I think it’s quite an accomplishment to have all of that talent in Chickenfoot and manage to come up with such uninteresting music. Sammy is oddly defensive about this stuff. He was on Howard Stern a while back talking about how much more complex the Van Hagar tunes were. Yeesh, whatever.

    TOM JOHNSON: What was more complex? The lyrics? There’s no way Hagar’s stuff compared musically, but even lyrically there’s a pretty dubious distinction. Though I do remember reading one time that Van Hagar was the “thinking man’s Van Halen.” I’m now thinking that quote came from Sammy and not the interviewer.

    FRED PHILLIPS: Jealous much? The Van Hagar stuff might have been “more complex,” but it was, by and large, boring and safe — just like most things Hagar has been involved in. He puts out a winner every now and then, and there are some songs scattered throughout the Van Hagar years that I really like, but I don’t believe I’ve ever said, “Man, I really want to hear some Sammy Hagar about now.”

    MARK SALESKI: I think he meant key changes, use of keyboards, etc. God, whatever. It was very dull comparatively. And of course, I’ve already seen a bunch of “the album sucks” comments here and there. But those kind of people would have said that no matter what the music sounded like.

    FRED PHILLIPS: Even when DLR is horrible, which has been often over his solo years, you can’t say it’s boring.

    TOM JOHNSON: Off-ish topic: for some strange reason, Tattoo got separated from the album, so I heard the album starting with She’s The Woman. I kept waiting for Tattoo to come on and it never did, and each time a song ended I kept thinking “it’s not going to fit here.” Then I saw it was track 1. The album starts so well with She’s The Woman, I almost prefer not having Tattoo on the album, as if it’s a stand-alone single. Try it and see if STW doesn’t sound like a perfect “song #1.”