A Different Kind Of Truth
, March 13th, 2012 02:59
The world has been waiting 27 years for a new Van Halen record with David Lee Roth. To have any expectations after that long would be ludicrous. Yet however good or bad A Different Kind Of Truth might be, they've done their bit, giving us five of the greatest hard rock records of all-time (plus Diver Down, which is a still a very good album), including two absolute masterpieces in Fair Warning and 1984. So...
First and second listens are downright confusing. It's Van Halen, but not quite as we know them. The sound is the issue. Production-wise, it's quite a departure, and not one heading in the right direction. What's with all these different effects pedals messing with the famous "brown sound", especially wah-wah and a harmonizer? It's also amazing what a difference a change in member can make. From the very first note, you know that it's not Michael Anthony playing the bass. Wolfgang Van Halen, nevertheless, is a very competent player. As far as the songs go, Tattoo, it must be said, is a very catchy single, not like the old classics, but enough to get stuck in your head. The riff to 'She's The Woman' is reminiscent of 'I'm The One' from the first record and, while none of these songs are bad, they'd all be fine as filler on Women And Children First. At that realization the confusion ends, as that's exactly what they were intended to be: 'Tattoo' and 'Stay Frosty' sound like they may have been written recently, but 'She's The Woman' (complete with the middle-8 later used in 'Mean Street'), 'Outta Space', 'Big River' and 'Beats Workin'' were all on the 1976 "Zero" demo made with Gene Simmons, with different names, lyrics and parts. 'Bullethead', another song that's been kicking around for a long time, flat out rocks and it's great to finally have a proper recording of it. It's a definite highlight of the record.
It's well worth tracking down those old demos. For one thing, they sound more like Van Halen, especially with plenty of Roth's youthful high-pitched yelps. On A Different Kind Of Truth Roth sounds like exactly what he is now - a mature David Lee, confident with what he's doing and enjoying it. Similarly, Eddie's playing is still strong, though the guitar solos are underwhelming. One might question the necessity of such accoutrements in 2012, but Eddie always left them out when they weren't needed (see '(Oh) Pretty Woman' and 'Panama'). But when solos were called for, they were miniature compositions in and of themselves, adding to the song, not just taking up space. Eddie Van Halen was always very musical, and his sense of melody, and phrasing especially, was brilliant, most notably on 1984's 'Hot For Teacher' and 'Drop Dead Legs'. But here there's no sense of breath, of music, on these solos.
By the third listen however – and if you've waited 27 years for something, a third listen isn't too much to ask, even if it's more out of a sense of obligation than by choice –one finally thinks, 'Wait a minute, is this actually a good record?' And yes, yes it is. Once you're past the confusion of any preconceptions, it's a solid rock album. The pre-chorus to 'You And Your Blues', despite rhyming "breakdown" with "breakdown" (referencing both The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin), is an excellent slice of pop. 'The Trouble With Never' really begins to stand out and from there to the end of the record is very strong; hooks and riffs that we can almost recognize as VH.
The overall impression one gets from A Different Kind Of Truth is of Van Halen playing Classic Rock; not quite their own unique brand of it anymore, but still mixing enough of their flare into the formula to keep it far from generic. As for adjusting to this new sound, it may get worse before it gets better, but once you get past all the nitpicking, you can enjoy it for what it is – a good rock record by one of the greatest rock bands that ever existed.