February 7, 2012

A Different Kind Of Truth....Van Halen Delivers a Monster

A Different Kind Of Truth©2012 Interscope Records

Comeback albums are always problematic and rarely measure up to vintage material.  Reuniting and recording for financial or nostalgic reasons is not a promising recipe for inspired new music.  Even in the rare instance when the new music is undeniable, for most fans, sentimental legend surpasses objective reality.

Perhaps no band faced this seemingly lose-lose challenge more than the original lineup of Van Halen.  As legend would have it, Eddie Van Halen played Eruption note-for-note while simultaneously doing scissor jumps in an alcoholic mania.  Diamond David Lee Roth did Nadia Comaneci (look 'er up, kids) splits off the drum riser, 13 feet up and 28 1/2 feet across the stage - C'mon Dave, gimme a break!  Michael Anthony drank a case of Jack Daniels during his bass solo alone.  Alex Van Halen played the intro to Hot For Teacher in triple time while he set the gong behind him on fire in between beats.  Then there were the albums:  Van Halen, Van Halen II, Women And Children First, Fair Warning, Diver Down, 1984...

In the wake of 28 years of Sam Hagar, Gary Cherone, a Diamond Dave cameo, Sam Hagar again (again!!?!?!?), the mostly schlocky Van Hagar catalogue, and a decade or so of alcoholic oblivion, a comeback album that wasn't a cringe-worthy embarrassment seemed a monumental challenge.

As if Van Halen's challenge weren't daunting enough,  there was also the incessant one-man barrage of public sniping from the band's bitter former singer - you know, the current lead singer of ChickenMcNuggets....

Feb. 8, LA Forum - Final Dress Rehearsal

In the face of all the reasons why a Van Halen album should be a collossal disappointment, the band delivers A Different Kind Of Truth.  Very bluntly, "The new Van Halen album is a FUCKING monster!!!!"

A Different Kind Of Truth seems more a sequel to their first four albums than to Diver Down or the pop-infused 1984.  There aren't as many obvious pop hooks, and it's probably a good thing because otherwise these songs might have sounded more dated than classic.

Performance notes:
  • Ed never played guitar with this consistent level of ferocity during their entire tenure with the current lead singer of ChickenBreast. 
  • Alex Van Halen is predictably precise and comfortable in his role as the Modern Day Ginger Baker. 
  • Perhaps it's a bit of nepotism, but Wolf Van Halen's bass is more prominent in the mix than Michael Anthony's was on all the previous albums.
  • Either Wolf Van Halen plays bass exactly like his father plays guitar...or Papa Ed pulled rank on bass on certain tracks.
  • Diamond Dave REVELS in his return throughout the album.  His enthusiasm is so palpable and infectious that you will not be able to help yourself from grinning ear to ear as you listen.  One more thing:  listen to the lyrics.  Behind the distraction of glitter, zaniness, and Joker's grin is a formidable lyricist with a keen sense of observation and irony. 
Tattoo - ©2012 Interscope Records

Track notes:
  • Tattoo - Solid, pop radio-friendly hello, but given the pace of the rest of the album, it's understandable why some may be underwhelmed initially.
  • She's The Woman - prototypically Mean Street, with its relentless funk groove intact.  Currently my favorite song, with one complaint:  it's too damn short!
  • You And Your Blues - Van Halen lost Michael Anthony, but they didn't lose their trademark harmony vocals (although if Mikey were here, the harmonies probably would've been more prominent in the mix).
  • China Town - This Shy Boy of a track lives in the same turbo-beat part of town where Dave lived with Steve Vai and Billy Sheehan when they used to Eat 'Em And Smile.
  • Blood And Fire - Reminiscent of VH-I and VH-II, complete with Dave's wink and nod to the past: "I told you I'd be back.  Did you miss me?  Say it like you mean it!" 
  • Bullethead - Wailing elephant intro segues into an On Fire/Light Up The Sky-style vibe.
  • As Is - Everybody Wants Some-style tribal drums, mammoth-heavy guitars give way to a Sinners Swing verse and a gang-vocal chorus - G-g-g-get out and push!  Indeed.  
  • Honeybabysweetiedoll - Badness bringing up the rear with menacing minor-key guitar riff,  flanged bass, funky drums, and low-end vocals.  
  •  The Trouble With Never - Heavy, driving funk with oohs and aahs of choruses past and a Barry White-meets-Diamond-Dave interlude to boot.
  • Outta Space - We've found the Atomic Punk circa 2012!
  • Stay Frosty - The Ice Cream Man cometh with a whole lotta mystic popsicles.
  • Big River - Heavy-meets-pop with a melodic outro solo that deserves to be turned into a future song all its own.
  • Beats Workin' - Probably the most Van Halen circa 1977 song in the set with a Feel Your Love Tonight sunny vibe.  All that's missing is a Gazzari's wet t-shirt night, bell bottoms, and roller skates.     
Bottom Line:

A Different Kind Of Truth tips its hat generously to past Van Halen classics, but stands toe to toe with any of the band's pre-1986 vintage albums.  It also makes blatantly obvious that what's been missing in Van Halen's music for the past 26 years - something that all the high-end tequila in Cabo San Lucas and all the Olympic vocal gymnastics that go with it could never duplicate - was a larger-than-life, bigger-than-the-sum-of-its-parts, unique-as-a-fingerprint persona and attitude that only comes from a volatile mix of Diamond Dave and Eddie.

This is Classic Van Halen - period.

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