Van Halen: A Different Kind of Truth (2012)

VAN HALEN: A Different Kind of Truth (2012)

“Speaking cherry red/Electric green/Purple mountain’s majesty/talk to me”

Yes, Dave, talk to me, talk to me all you want. I have a few questions for you, though. First off, is “Tattoo,” the first single off Van Halen’s new album, A Different Kind of Truth, attempting to make a profound statement on the self-absorption and visual obsessions of the American soul, circa 2012? Are you, David Lee Roth, writing hard rock’s new “America the Beautiful” with your vividly descriptive lyrical color palate? Perhaps, but in “truth,” the laid-back, pleasant but conservative opening track and initial radio hit offers barely a hint of the sheer musical devastation to come on Truth. Not only is three-quarters of the original Van Halen lineup literally back, but on Truth VH delivers their most thrilling, invigorating and exuberant release since their classic first foul LPs.

Indeed, it has been awhile since we’ve heard VH on record, so a healthy dose of skepticism would only be natural. After all, it’s been 14 years since the band’s last platter, 1998’s underwhelming Van Halen III with Extreme’s Gary Cherone on vocals, and only 28 years since the year and classic album of 1984. Original bassist Michael Anthony, along with his signature high-pitched vocal harmonies, is gone, having been replaced by a promising but still unknown quantity in Eddie VH’s son Wolfgang. A successful reunion tour of 2007-08 proved the band still possesses the impeccable musical chops and fiery intensity in a live setting. But could they still write the kind of powerful and emotive hard rock songs they delivered back in their halcyon heyday? Would they even release an album, period?

Worry not, my friends, because Truth has “Album of the Year” qualifications written all over it, at least in the humble, biased opinion of his old-school VH maniac. In some ways, it’s like 1980 and the electrifying Women and Children First platter all over again, as Dave asks in “The Trouble with Never,” “when was the last time you did something for the first time?” Mad guitar scientist extraordinaire, Eddie grabs a seemingly-endless supply of pummeling riffs out of his proverbial hat, including eviscerating palm-muted speedball headbangers like “She’s the Woman,” “China Town,” and “Outta Space.” These tunes crush skulls and raise pulse rates like all the Light up the Skies, Romeo Delights and Unchaineds of yesteryear. Meanwhile, Eddie gives us some of his tastiest, most melodious leads of his career while also offering some progressive texturing and complicated riffs on “As Is” and “The Trouble With Never.” Wolfgang’s bass playing is thunderous and impressive throughout, 10 times more advanced than their previous basslines with Anthony while still locking in with the ever rock-solid groove of drummer Alex VH. As for DLR, he’s still DLR –a Vegas lounge singer trapped in an ADHD rock singer’s clothing, making up for what he lacks in vocal range with wit and charisma. His delivery is smoother these days, and some may miss his obnoxious whooping-it-up screams, as well as MA’s missing vocal harmonies. That being said, the band does a capable job of trying to compensate in the vocal harmony department. Also, some of the vocal hooks, especially in the choruses, could be a tad catchier and more engaging to these ears.

The mellower tunes, such as the seductively lamenting, “You and Your Blues,” and the anthemic “Blood and Fire” pack plenty of memorable punch, and the acoustic-meets-stomping boogie epic “Stay Frosty” recalls a return trip of the Ice Cream Man. The pulsating bass groove and wide-open guitar riffs of “Big River” simply soar and soothe the restless soul of the long-lost VH fan in all of us. As DLR sings to close the disc, “this beats workin’, baby,” and it’s hard for me to imagine a better album coming out this year.–Jonathan Kollnot

–Tracklisting: 1.) Tattoo 2.) She’s the Woman 3.) You and Your Blues 4.) China Town 5.) Blood and Fire 6.) Bullethead 7.) As Is 8.) Honeybabysweetiedoll 9.) The Trouble with Never 10.) Outta Space 11.) Stay Frosty 12.) Big River 13.) Beats Workin’

~ by jonnyboyrocker on February 22, 2012.

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