By Bill Adams
After so many years of Van Halen actively holding the possibility of a reunion with David Lee Roth in front of fans like a carrot only to pull it away when it looked like they might get excited, can anyone blame those spurned supporters for not wanting to play along anymore? In the last sixteen years, Roth has passed through the “frontman” position with a facility akin to both entering and exiting a revolving door, but hasn’t actually accomplished much (maybe two new songs? For a best-of comp?) accomplished. This nonsense has happened so often that now, even with a new album locked in, finished and scheduled for release, it’s questionable how many fans will be interested – after all, how much abuse could they be expected to take?
Whether they feel dirty as they do it or not, no fan who hears A Different Kind Of Truth will be able to deny that it is worth both the wait and trouble it might have taken to make and release. For the first time in twenty-seven years, Van Halen has made an album worth attention and praise.
It’s hard to say whether the sound of A Different Kind Of Truth could be called a return to form or a breath of fresh air, but listeners will be able to feel the incredibly potent energy just radiating off the band from the moment “Tattoo” blows the doors off the album. Here, Eddie Van Halen skips all the synths he was so fond of employing while both Gary Cherone and Sammy Hagar stood in front of the band and lights his fretboard up again with some fine rock guitar leads instead. The going gets even better as “She’s The Woman” sees Roth getting back into the spirit (and vocal tone) of the sound and makes jaws drop as, with just a few boasts and a few yelps that sound as though they haven’t aged a day, he fits easily between some of those perfectly articulated guitar lines which have always been a Van Halen trademark. The results are incredible; right from the get-go, Van Halen reappears renewed and untarnished, and fans will have to actively work to not line up behind it.
From there, no vintage Van Halen sound really gets missed or forgotten as the band delivers what it knows fans are hoping to hear in a new, archetypical DLR-VH record. There’s fretboard fury and fingertapping to be found at the beginning of “China Town,” some sunshine-y, “Panama”–esque pop which will warm hearts in “Blood And Fire” as well as some skate-minded, pseudo-grindy hard rock in “Bullethead,” which turns a little manic and turgid for “As Is,” and it all sounds brilliant and vibrant. Every step of the way through this workout, Van Halen really does sound like they’re in fighting shape and want to show it (read: there are no Broadway-core asides like all the covers which sounded great for their time on Diver Down, but would come off as dumb in this context) as they never phone in a performance here or pull a punch. That’s no small feat given that the band members (other than Eddie’s son Wolfgang who, at twenty-one years old, gets to play out a real-life enactment of Disney’s I’m In The Band here as he plays bass) are an average age of fifty-seven, but they do pull the job off better and more believably than anyone could possibly expect here.
Given the blazing blazing success and triumphant return that A Different Kind Of Truth has turned out to be, it feels a little easier to ask what might come next from Van Halen. Against all the odds, the band has managed to believably make twenty-seven years of chasing its tail melt away and re-present themselves in such a way that implies they were never actually gone. That’s an achievement in and of itself but, with A Different Kind Of Truth now made and poised to make a staggering impression, here’s hoping the band is ready to keep it up – because this album is guaranteed to renew the hunger for more in fans.
(Interscope / Universal)
Bill Adams is the editor-in-chief of groundcontrolmag.com