by James Garcia Jr.
Before I get started, perhaps I should lay all of my cards out on the table. I have been listening to the band Van Halen for most of my life. I loved the band when Diamond David Lee Roth was manning the microphone; was incredulous when he decided to leave the band and chase Hollywood; politely ignored them when they momentarily paired up with Gary Cherone (a wonderful vocalist with his band Extreme, including the brilliant Three Sides to Every Story, but was a terrible choice for Van Halen); and was ecstatic for a decade when Sammy Hagar was in the band and they were on “Top of the World” for a little while, to paraphrase their hit song from the 1991 album, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.
Although I was pleased to hear that Eddie and brother Alex Van Halen had climbed back into the studio, reuniting with Roth, I was disappointed that original bassist Michael Anthony was not being asked back as well. It is perfectly understandable since Eddie’s son, Wolfgang, is the new bass player; however, I still believe it has more to do with Anthony’s friendship with Hagar than it is with a father wanting to work with his son.
In any event, there have been two predominant camps: Van Roth fans and Van Hagar fans. I would choose the latter any day of the week, but do appreciate both versions of the monster rock band. With that in mind, and doing my best to avoid the endless debate over which version of the band was best, I examined the new album A Different Kind of Truth, released February 7, 2012, from the point of view of a longtime fan who is pleased that they are once again making new music after fourteen years.
1 “Tattoo”: When I first heard this song, I thought there had been some sort of mistake. It seemed more like a filler track than what we might have expected from a first single from a highly anticipated record, and even had the die-hard fans worried. Much like the entire album, however, I find it growing on me with every listen. It does have that classic Van Halen sound.
2 “She’s The Woman”: This is another cut that I appreciate with each listen. It’s the band setting the tone for the rest of the record, taking us places we may not have expected musically. Eddie really lets loose here.
3 “You and Your Blues”: Roth tests the boundaries of his vocal range at several points during this song. He could have played it safe, but I love that he took chances with it. We finally get a hook to play with in this one. They might have a hit with it.
4 “China Town”: This is a rocking track and definitely one of the fastest ever recorded by the band. This song alone shows that they mean business with this release and are not planning on playing it safe.
5 “Blood and Fire”: It is one of my favorites and sounds exactly like a Van Halen song in 2012 should. The rumors are that several of these songs are pieces left over from the 70’s, reworked and revamped. There’s nothing wrong with that. The classic Rolling Stones song “Start Me Up” was a reworked song that the band finally made something of.
6 “Bullethead”: This song may have gone too far with Roth’s vocal range. He sounds like Kiss’ Paul Stanley a few times to me here and it’s probably my least favorite track.
7 “As Is”: This one might have stood a bit more work. I like the attempt, but it’s a bit of miss. What does strike me here is how they play together as if old friends and that nothing could blow them back apart. I hope that’s true.
8 “Honeybabysweetiedoll”: This track is all over the board. It’s a lot of noise without a clear direction.
9 “The Trouble with Never”: There doesn’t seem to be any clear cut songs on this record vying to be the next hit single, although this one is very close. It’s got the chorus we’ve grown to expect from the band. There’s something to be said against being too polished for a classic rock band, but this song could have been a monster hit. The song definitely trips up when Roth begins to channel “Panama” by speaking seductively into the microphone for far too long.
10 “Outta Space”: This one needs to be launched there, I’m afraid.
11 “Stay Frosty”: This one has been reported to be a sequel to the classic “Ice Cream Man” from their 1978 debut, Van Halen. It certainly is a cross of that and perhaps “Take Your Whiskey Home” from 1980’s Women and Children First. It’s a big rocker and a lot of fun.
12 “Big River”: I like this one. I would well imagine that we’re going to be hearing this one a lot this year.
13 “Beats Workin’”: Once again, Roth sounds like Stanley, but it’s a fun effort.
I previewed all of the songs the weekend before the release and came away disappointed. I bought the CD very early Tuesday morning from iTunes and have been listening to it ever since, in preparation for this article. David Lee Roth fans love it. It fulfills them and they have been flooding the social networks very much in favor of what they are hearing. For me, I had to come to the realization that this is Van Halen today. Once I did that, and then judged the work on its merits, I find that I’m enjoying the album for the most part, and will continue to listen to it. I have a feeling that once those of us on the fence do that, we will all be lining up for tickets to the tour of 2012.