Mike D.: Some time ago – probably after Bob Dylan released Time Out of Mind – it became common for music pundits to slap their foreheads and declare that, you know, the newest album by a major pop/rock act previously viewed as past their prime actually isn’t so bad.
Koomdogg: After a month of previews and slow reveals, Van Halen’s A Different Kind of Truth is finally out.
Jay: Considering it’s been 14 years since their last album (and that album was VH III, which I thought was absolutely terrible) I put on my headphones with zero expectations.
Mike D. : While it’s awesome that Van Halen can still bring it in the 21st century, it’s not quite that simple. Culled from ideas for songs that date back to the band’s early club days, Truth has almost an unfair advantage in the nostalgia department.
Grez: If the brothers Van Halen were to reband with Roth, one thing was absolutely necessary: they needed to sound like old Van Halen, and I don’t mean Diver Down/1984 VH, but rather the 1978-79 band with the raw, new sound the likes of which no one had ever previously heard. That’s exactly what’s happened on this album, and is the primary reason it works.
Koomdogg: We were bamboozled. VH pulled a bait-and-switch by releasing the worst song on the album, “Tattoo,” as the first single. And even that song has proven relentlessly catchy. But the rest of the album contains the hardest rocking VH music since Fair Warning. No synths, no ballads, no covers. Just balls-out big rock that belies the fact that three-quarters of this band is pushing 60.
David Lee Roth, on his first album with the Van Halen brothers in nearly 30 years, picks up where he left off. He’s not screaming as much as he did in the old days, but his vocals are strong and he’s as cocky and self-assured as he ever was. DLR still likes to do the old talking up the bridge shtick, but I’m okay with that. Some doof on Twitter argued the other day that Dave’s lyrics are terrible, but he’s missing the point. We’re not looking for friggin’ Dostoevsky here; we want clever lyrics with big choruses that leave room for thick riffs and blistering guitar solos. Mission accomplished.
Grez: That’s not to say that everything is all good and light. Surprisingly, they start the album with what is the weakest track of all thirteen here, “Tattoo.” It has some nice harmonies, but beyond that, there isn’t much there musically. The chorus is practically non-existent, the guitar solo is mostly derivative and mailed-in (other than the last 10 bars or so), and it feels primarily like a vehicle over which to allow Roth to deliver some campy lyrics (that attempt to be smart, but aren’t). “You And Your Blues” suffers as well from some sort of weird identity crisis, with vocal melody lines that sound like they’re from some happy mid-90s alt-rock band, but an opening guitar tone that is straight from OU812. “Stay Frosty” feels awkwardly put together, as if Dave and Eddie are constantly vying to be the center of attention, and “Big River” straight up rips off “Runnin’ With The Devil” (although more up-tempo) while not being nearly as lyrically interesting as the hit it apes.
Jay: David Lee Roth sounds MUCH better than I thought he would.
Grez: Dave never had a very big dynamic range, and both age and years of chemical partying have narrowed it further. Throughout the album, he teeters precariously between the safety of his more recent Vegas-lounge delivery (where he can drop notes and call it artistic interpretation) and attempts at the howls and squeals of his younger days. The end result is that he often sounds strained when he goes for the bigger notes, although, in his defense, he does hit them. Dave’s no dummy, and he’s certainly aware of all of this and trying to work with the instrument he has, but it also unfortunately results in too much low-tone-spoken-word stuff that, while it worked great in “Panama,” sounds alternately goofy (“Tattoo”) or just plain uncomfortable (the middle section of the otherwise kick-ass and awesomely-titled “The Trouble With Never”) here. However, all of those criticisms aside, I have to say that I largely like his delivery across the album, and his big personality certainly shines through. He gives us lots of witty moments (“I told you I’d be back – say you missed me”) and bits of lyrical irony (something he has frequently been able to do and which is a weak spot for Hagar). Diamond Dave may be a self-aggrandizing, self-obsessed megalomaniac, but he’s a fun one, and he makes me like him all over again despite his flaws.
Koomdogg: Eddie VH may not be reinventing the guitar like he did in 1978, but he can still fire off blinding solos that electrify. The man’s had serious issues over the years, but holy hell, he’s playing like a man possessed here. Michael Anthony’s backing vocals are definitely missed, but young Wolfgang VH proves himself a skilled bassist who can keep up with his dad and uncle Alex on breakneck passages in “China Town,” “Bullethead” and “Outta Space.” Occasionally, the new material sounds a little too much like the old classics; “Stay Frosty” has an “Ice Cream Man” vibe, complete with the bluesy acoustic intro segueing into an electric stomp.
Jay: While I didn’t dislike any song on the album, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I really liked any song either. It’s got the classic Van Halen sound, but is missing the catchy riffs and choruses. If I HAD to pick a high and low point of the album I’d say “The Trouble With Never” was the high point and “Stay Frosty” was the low point.
I’d give this album a C overall and as far as VH canon goes I’d put it ahead of VHIII but that’s about it.
Nick: I like the album. I don’t know if I LOVE it yet as that is going to take more listens, but at least I’m intrigued enough to listen some more which is at least a good start. Does it stand up to the previous albums with David Lee Roth? Well, of course not as those are all classics, but this is not a disastrous release by any stretch of the imagination. The best riffs are most likely recycled, but at least they are Eddie’s riffs and Eddie playing them, so why shouldn’t he be allowed to dig into his personal treasure chest to present fans with some new tunes?
Koomdogg: Much has been made of Eddie resurrecting bits and pieces of old unreleased VH songs for this album. Obviously, he was reaching back to that early VH sound, so why the hell not? It’s still too early to tell where this album truly falls in the VH canon. The band had a lot to prove and live up to, and as far as I’m concerned, it delivers on all counts. Cynics will point out that this album is just a cash grab. DLR and the VH brothers had some serious hate on for each other for a lot of years there and it’s hard to believe that everything’s all love and happiness all of a sudden. They may not even talk to each when they get off stage. But as long as they keep kicking ass like they do on A Different Kind of Truth, who really cares?
Grez: The end result is this: A Different Kind of Truth isn’t the new Van Halen 1, but I don’t think anyone really expected that. It is on par, however, with other good Van Halen albums like Women And Children First. It’s likely that it could have come close to being their “new classic” (if such a category exists) if it had been given a smidge more editing (probably saving “Tattoo” for a freebie download or a b-side, and culling some of the vocal scat and spoken word stuff), but I’m more than happy to take what has been delivered. It’s certainly more than I anticipated it to be. Van Halen is thankfully, finally, off of the bench. Here’s to hoping that they keep moving forward, stay healthy, and that a couple of years from now they deliver us another collection of all-new material that is at least as good as their impressive efforts here in resurrecting some trunk tunes that deserved to be heard. Call it a reinstatement of faith in one of the powerhouses of rock.
Grade: A good, solid B that I upgraded from a B- (the more I listen, the more I like it, so upgrade deserved)
Mike D.: While the best riffs – lead single “Tattoo,” “She’s the Woman,” “The Trouble with Never” and “Beats Workin'” among them – don’t equal the highs of 1984 or even 5150, it’s certainly not as bad as watching Roth try to squeeze into a pair of spandex chaps.
Nick: Any of you VH fans who haven’t taken the plunge on it yet, I recommend doing so.