Months ago when I heard Van Halen was putting the finishing touches on a new release of all new material my heart sank a bit. A huge fan of the original lineup I was fearful a new CD would put massive dents in an original band whose material I still enjoy and respect. Add to that the fact the band has gone through a series of lead singers over the decades, some successful (Sammy Hagar), others disastrous (Gary Cherone) and the soap opera splits that accompanied, this is a band that should have retired years ago let alone put out a new album. But wait…
Diamond Dave reconciled with his band mates a few years back, they went on a hugely successful North American tour in 2010 and by most reviews were on top of their game. Original bassist Michael Anthony was replaced by none other than Eddie Van Halen’s son Wolfgang on that tour having split years prior in favor of a friendship with Hagar (this would make a great reality show!). The legendary guitarist’s son is in the lineup again for the band’s first release with lead singer David Lee Roth since 1983’s massive 1984, and while it’s still not the original lineup there are now three actual Van Halens in the band. So, what does A Different Kind of Truth sound like?
After hearing the first single Tattoo I was even more fearful. At first listen it sounded lame, underpowered and like a band reaching for their glorious past. Online comments by Hagar suggested the band had not written any new material, rather relying on an archive of unreleased tracks to fill-out a CD. At first I thought this was a bad thing but after indulging and purchasing a copy of on release day (the kid in me couldn’t resist), turning up the volume and giving a couple of listens I quickly came around and was transported back in time. Turns out Truth sounds exactly like you’d imagine 1984’s follow-up to sound like had Roth not left the band to pursue a solo career. And it’s no surprise since the songs are all from that era.
Lets be clear, this isn’t a new sound or current one. You have to be a fan of Van Halen with Roth back in the day and if that’s the case then this is a solid effort. The musicianship is crisp, Diamond Dave is as vibrant as ever and Eddie’s guitar riffs howl. While there’s likely no mainstream radio singles here there are a handful of tunes worthy of heavy classic rock station rotation.
The album’s stand-out track is easily Stay Frosty, a fun, bluesy-meets-rock number that reminds of Ice Cream Man from the first Van Halen release way back in 1977. There’s been a buzz about the song with Foo Fighter’s Dave Grohl seemingly tipping his hat to it at the end of a recent blog post.
Other noteworthy tunes include the pounding She’s the Woman and Big River; both groove and sound much like Top Jimmy and Drop Dead Legs from 1984 and take the listener back to the days when Van Halen ruled the airwaves, pants were shiny and much tighter. After a few listens Tattoo even grows on you, providing a good intro to the new release with Roth dipping to lower octaves and seductively talking like few front-men can.
A Different Kind of Truth ends in great fashion with Beats Workin’, a big, unashamed, wailing tune. It rocks and oozes fun good times, what Van Halen was and is all about.