CD Review: Van Halen - A Different Kind of Truth

CD Review: Van Halen - A Different Kind of Truth
Interscope Records
All Access Review:  A-

When it comes to anything and everything related to Van Halen, the truth is always subjective. The first time around, when David Lee Roth exited stage left, what exactly happened between him and the rest of that band that caused their very public and nasty divorce? Then there was the whole Sammy Hagar debacle. Did he leave of his own volition or was he canned by Eddie and Alex? On the heels of that messy split came the aborted 1996 reunion with Roth and the MTV Music Awards fiasco that led Eddie to say something to the effect of, if Roth ever addressed him in a certain way again, “ … he’d better wear a cup.” If ever anyone was to attempt to write a rock and roll soap opera, they might as well abandon the idea right now, because chances are, no writer could, in his wildest dreams, concoct the kind of drama that has already unfolded within Van Halen.

And so, here we are in 2012, and pigs now evidently can fly. Roth is back in the Van Halen fold and a new album has arrived, the blessed event preceded by the release of an unsatisfying first single, “Tattoo,” that led to much head-scratching and quizzical expressions. Betrayed by a weak, lazy chorus, Eddie’s “going through the motions” solo and a sort of forced attempt to bring back that cheeky fun the boys exuded on smash hits like “Hot For Teacher” and “Jump,” “Tattoo” received mixed reviews – to put it charitably – and torpedoed expectations for A Different Kind of Truth, Van Halen’s first album with Roth since 1984. The bar lowered well below where it was set for Guns ‘N Roses’ Chinese Democracy, it turns out Van Halen was sandbagging us all along. Supposedly working off bits and scraps of material the band had left over from the good old days Van Halen has transformed this pile of ephemera into a powerhouse album engorged with Roth’s circus-barker vocals, Alex’s brawny, wrecking-ball drumming and the kind of molten riffs and high-flying, supersonic solos that made Eddie Van Halen a legend.

A Different Kind of Truth washes out the bad taste of “Tattoo,” the opening track, almost immediately with the rampaging stampede of “She’s The Woman.” As if circling high above a freshly killed carcass, in buzzard-like fashion, Eddie whips up a dazzling, intricate intro to the track that rushes headlong into a prison break of heavy, unbridled riffs and tenderizing rhythms. What should have been the initial single, “You and Your Blues,” is more darkly melodic, chugging tantalizingly ahead before giving way to a deceptively simple, cascading chorus that’s disarming, instantly memorable and becomes even more rewarding with repeated listens. Clearly, Eddie is reinvigorated and out to prove that he’s still the champ, as the dizzying flurry of knockout blows he delivers in the thundering blitzkrieg that is “China Town” – the closest Van Halen has ever come to sounding punk, although the raging, speed-addicted “Bullethead” that crops up two songs later would be a close second – so exquisitely proves, especially with the blindingly fast, Yngwie Malmsteen-like fretwork that turns the ignition on this hard-working engine.

A truly great guitar record, with scorching leads and contorted figures strategically placed throughout its burning landscape like claymore mines and Eddie effortlessly executing the kind of hairpin twists and turns that would cause other guitarists to crash and burn, A Different Kind of Truth gnashes its teeth and wails at a world that had begun to see Van Halen as a joke. It’s no party album; actually, it’s more of a thrill ride, a fast, frenzied rollercoaster that speeds through some of the darker territory Van Halen once traversed in “Runnin’ With the Devil,” “And the Cradle will Rock” and “Mean Streets” – “Honeybabysweetiedoll,” with its mad-dog growl and exotic Middle Eastern overtones, and “As Is” matching, chord for explosive chord, their surging power.

Uncharacteristically, though as slyly charming and as entertaining as ever, Roth seems comfortable taking a backseat to Eddie on A Different Kind of Truth, except on “Outta Space,” the philosophical “The Trouble with Never” and “Stay Frosty.” Roth’s trademark swagger and that comedic charisma he has are in full effect on the bluesy, gleefully entertaining “Stay Frosty,” which carries on the acoustic tradition and vaudevillian soft shoe of “Ice Cream Man” and “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now).” Propelled by the propulsive, pounding bass lines and Eddie’s stop-start dynamics that drive the humorous “Outta Space” forward, Roth lets it all hang out, singing as if he’s fighting for his career, dipping low and then rising to wrestle with Eddie’s guitar for the spotlight. Every grunt, yelp and excited utterance is emitted in the moment and without preconception, and for the first time in a long while, Roth, though never a great singer, doesn’t come off as self-serving or clownish.

Although there really isn’t a clear radio hit – even “You and Your Blues” is bereft of that mysterious “it” factor that pushes a song up the charts – and it could do with a little more refinement as far as song construction goes, A Different Kind of Truth leaves you breathless by the end, its energy and intensity almost overwhelming. Less generous with those big, juicy hooks of theirs than one would expect and missing those vocal harmonies that Michael Anthony used to supply in spades, A Different Kind of Truth is, nonetheless, a tour de force for Eddie, a chance for him to showcase all the new tricks he’s learned. Despite its clunky title, the album is a sonic whirlwind, and when everybody was asking what kind of response Van Halen had for Chickenfoot, nobody imagined that this was what Eddie and the gang had in mind. In its quest for truth, Van Halen has rediscovered much of what made them great in the first place.

- Peter Lindblad

VH Interview 
(direct from the Van Halen website) 

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