Yesterday, Metal Insider sponsored the New York listening party for Van Halen’s 12th studio album, A Different Kind of Truth. The album, which comes out today, was literally years in the making. The first full VH album with original vocalist David Lee Roth back in the driver’s seat in 28 years, the album came pre-loaded with lofty expectations that weren’t necessarily met with the first single, “Tattoo.” After having listened to the album repeatedly over the last few days, I can say that it mostly lives up to those expectations and is a solid entry in the Van Halen discography.
To anyone growing up in the early ’80s, Van Halen was a juggernaut. Guys wanted to be them, girls wanted to do them, and countless musicians spent hours in their garages and bedrooms learning the two-handed finger tapping of Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption.” They were bigger than life in a way that few bands have been since, and even though the band remained huge after Sammy Hagar replaced Roth in 1985, something was missing. This album restores that and fills in the gaps between 1984 (the year) and 2012 – it might as well have been called 1985.
Then there’s the music itself. While much has been spoken about the fact that some of these songs go back well over 30 years, that should be the way any Van Halen fan wants it! Compare Toys in the Attic-era Aerosmith to Just Push Play. There’s no comparison. This is the fastest and heaviest album they’ve put out since Fair Warning. David Lee Roth’s toastmaster general vibe brings back the fun aspect of the band. Sprinkled with bon mots like “I want to be your knight in shining pick up truck” and”whole lot of Shakespeare going on and on,” one is reminded how literal the lyrics of the Hagar era was. Eddie’s playing is at the top of its game on songs like “China Town,” a driving song which leads off with a solo. “Bullethead” has a punky vibe, not unlike “One Foot Out the Door.” On album highlight “Stay Frosty,” Roth muses about religion to a bluesy acoustic/electric song that’s a logical follow-up to Van Halen 1′s “Ice Cream Man.”
And while it’s not a true reunion without original bassist Michael Anthony in the band, Eddie’s now-20 year-old son Wolfgang does an admirable job on bass and (presumably) backup vocals that approximate Anthony’s. There are some great guitar/bass runs on the album (like on “China Town” and “The Trouble With Never”) that bring to mind Roth’s Crazy From The Heat lineup of Steve Vai and Billy Sheehan. And “Honeybabysweetiedoll” has a near-math metal breakdown. Roth isn’t quite the vocalist he used to be, but it’s not for lack of trying. While his voice strains a bit at some of the higher register passages, he still pulls it off pretty admirably.
Any band reuniting is a dicey proposition, and usually leads to diminishing returns. But with three quarters of the Van Halen pushing 60 years old, they’re playing with damn near the same intensity that they did 33 years ago. And while a few of its 13 songs could have been trimmed, this is a rock solid album that outperforms its expectations. In short, if you were a fan of the first six Van Halen albums, you won’t be disappointed in the least.