Thursday, 9 February 2012

REVIEW - A Different Kind of Truth - Van Halen

Just when you thought it was safe to reintegrate the M&Ms! Better than might have been reasonable to expect, and sure to make the fans happy.

ARTIST: Van Halen
ALBUM: A Different Kind Of Truth
RELEASED: February 2012

Tattoo/She's The Woman/You and Your Blues/China Town/Blood and Fire/
Bullethead/As Is/Honeybabysweetiedoll/The Trouble With Never/
Outta Space/Stay Frosty/Big River/Beats Workin'

Told ya I was comin' back...
Say ya missed me...
Say it like ya mean it!

If ever an album was all about the numbers it's A Different Kind Of Truth. It is, after all, the first Van Halen album in 14 years and the first Van Halen album with David Lee Roth in 28 years.

There's a group of music fans (and a fairly big group at that), for whom these facts are a BIG DEAL. The original Van Halen lineup were the definitive California party band of the late 70s and early/mid 80s, and despite their subsequent success with Sammy Hagar on vocals, there's not a Van Halen fan that hasn't imagined the return of David Lee Roth every day since 1985. Just look at the 10 million copies their last album together sold, or the public response to their first public appearance together in 11 years at the MTV music awards (in 1996, a ludicrous 16 years and one awful album with Gary Cherone before the reunion would finally bear fruit).

Believe me, David Lee Roth has worn far worse outfits than that.

Apart from anything else, it is exciting to find Eddie Van Halen's inimitable guitar (actually imitated by everyone and their dog since 1980) and Roth's over the top persona in the same place once more. It's a combination that gave the band a uniqueness and personality they could never recapture with Hagar, and it's almost surreal to hear them paired up again after so many years, and so many false starts.

And while it would be fair to suggest he may have lost a step or two over the years, Eddie sounds nothing like the sad, drunken mess he appeared to be for much of the last decade. That alone will make A Different Kind of Truth a winning proposition for some, and it's certainly a thrill to hear the man playing again. Likewise, it's a treat to hear Roth back at the top level after a fairly underwhelming two decades of diminishing solo returns. The voice is a little strained, an it's impossible to hide the fact that Roth is not a young man anymore, but there's enough of what once was to fire the memories of anyone who cares.

And the lyrics? They're ridiculous, but as a lyricist Roth has always had a talent for the stoopid (as in, dumb fun) where Hagar was too often guilty of the stupid (as in, this bullshit right here). Sure, by not inviting original bassist Michael Anthony back into the fold, they've lost the distinctive backing vocals that were arguably his biggest contribution to the band, but at the end of the day, this is still clearly and utterly a Van Halen album.

You and Your Blues

It doesn't entirely gel though. The songs are a mixed bag, both across the album and even within themselves. There's nothing truly awful, bar perhaps the cringe inducing chorus of opener Tattoo, but things don't always flow as well as they might. Sure, it sounds great at any given moment, but too many of the tracks fail to equal the sum of their parts, the transitions a little awkward, the writing apparently a little rusty.

Maybe this shouldn't be surprising however. For as many great moments as the classic Van Halen line-up had, they were never the greatest song writers. Excepting the odd true gem, much of their best material was carried by Roth's personality and Eddie's revolutionary playing – often slammed together, rather molded with any great craftsmanship. Both those pieces of the puzzle are in place, but time and context have drained some of the x factor. Tellingly too, a number of tracks have been built upon dusted off demos from the band's golden era. It's a connection with the past they're trying to recapture, but also evidence inspiration may have been thin on the ground.

(they must have spend dozens on this video - and yes, it doesn't synch up very well, does it?)

Another fly in the ointment is the production job undertaken by the band in conjunction with John Shanks. Where the classic Van Halen albums had a simple, spacious sound, A Different Kind of Truth has a thick, full, modern production that gives the whole affair a cluttered, busy feel and generic sheen. There seems to have been a desire to rock harder than ever, but Van Halen were always about more than the low-end rumble, and the net result sometimes sounds worryingly like Eddie Van Halen playing on a Godsmack record. It's hard to understand why a band so clearly set upon recapturing their glory days wouldn't have called on Ted Templeman, the producer of their classic Roth-era albums

Blood and Fire

Ultimately though, this is an enjoyable album, and the fans it is targeting will no doubt contentedly crank it to ten and marvel at the fact it even exists. It's far better than one might have expected, but it's also hard to imagine it being in heavy rotation three or four months from now when the thrill of the new has diminished.


  1. I like the way you explain things to your audience in a non-patronising way, instead of taking the attitude that if we're not fans enough to know what you're talking about, we don't deserve to know anyway. It's rare in music writers to be so accommodating, and it's nice.

    1. Thanks. I don't put any real thought into that sort of thing, so I'm glad it comes across that way. If I did have a mantra, it would probably be that you can never know how much the reader knows, and you can always assume they'd like to know more.