I’ll admit, I was a tad nervous when Van Halen announced that they were putting out a new album. While the immediate thought was “Rock gods be praised,” the little nagging doubt in the back of my head snapped me back to reality. It has been 13 years since Van Halen last recorded an album (1998’s Van Halen III with Gary Cherone, not their finest hour) and 27 years since the band last recorded an album with original front man “Diamond” David Lee Roth at the helm. All I could do was close my eyes, cross my fingers, and pray; and the rock gods answered my prayers.
Van Halen’s new album A Different Kind Of Truth is remarkable for the fact that it is very much a crossroad of old and new, both musically and somewhat thematically as well (a prime example of this is the lyrics “burning up my Facebook page” from the song “Outta Space”). The album features many songs that sound like they could fit perfectly well in the original Van Halen catalogue, as well as some that represent more pop and heavier metal influences. As a point of comparison, the first two tracks of the album, “Tattoo,” and “She’s The Woman,” respectively track one and two, provide excellent juxtaposition. “Tattoo,” a reworking of the song “Down In Flames,” only played on the 1978 world tour and never released live, is certainly a more pop-y Van Halen. While Eddie’s guitar still provides some classic Van Halen rock in the intro and solo, the rest of the song reflects the kind of pop influence they played with on 1984 especially with the synthesizers providing the main instrumentation in the verses. “She’s The Woman,” on the other hand, immediately transports one back to 1978 and VH’s first album, with a riff that is somewhat of the static, palm-muted riff of “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love.” Here, the overall harder sound, and the harmony created by Roth’s, Eddie’s, and Wolfgang’s vocals, bring the classic VH sound out, which, of course, would be nothing without Eddie’s shredding guitar solo. The key comparison between these two songs is that the magic of the original Van Halen is still strong as it ever was. The pairing of Eddie Van Halen’s guitar with David Lee Roth’s vocals, still makes for one of the strongest sonic pairings in rock.
Another perfect match-up of songs from A Different Kind Of Truth to previous VH albums, comes from “China Town,” a fast, furious, three minute fifteen second powerhouse that will knock you on your behind if you’re not paying attention. The fury here is mostly due to Alex Van Halen’s drums, and he has not hit them that hard or fast on a Van Halen track since the iconic intro for “Hot For Teacher” from 1984, but this time, he keeps up that rapid pounding for the whole song. Van Halen, having a good sense of set list structure, end the album in grandiose fashion, with the hard rocking anthem “Beats Workin’.” The song captures the immortal spirit of the younger Van Halen, with a “Its time to kick back, relax, and party” attitude. The song almost seems to leak out feelings of exuberance and letting lose with everything contained within it; Dave’s vocals have the same energy of a concert finale and encapsulate an underlying Thank God it’s Friday sort of feel, and Eddie’s guitar sounds its brightest and most joyful on the whole album. Truly the best way they could end the album, and my definite nominee for show closer for closing song on their tour.
The strongest feature of A Different Kind Of Truth is that it is both a classic album and a new album. It fits very cleanly in the fine body of work that makes up the Van Halen under Roth catalogue, as well as the fact that it is not just an “old album,” but reflects some musical development. Van Halen mix old songs and new, older riffs and new influences, to make a record that belongs in 2012. What I find important here is that A Different Kind Of Truth is like a statement of defiance to those critics and cynics who thought that the new tour and album would be only a “throwback and nostalgia” show; this statement being a strong assertion of Van Halen’s place in the 2012 world. Van Halen proves that they are not a throwback act, but proper musicians, that are still making new music that is relevant in the 2012 world.
- Jackson Sinnenberg, host of Sinn 6:66, a classic rock radio show on WGTB that airs Fridays at 11pm