Released: February 7, 2012 by Interscope Records
There really is no point in reviewing an album like this. It’s not like anyone is going to listen to or not listen to it based on any one opinion, let alone mine. When a legendary band reunites with their original singer for their first album of new material in almost 30 years, you’re gonna wanna hear it for yourself. So consider the following just an FYI.
Yes, David Lee Roth is back, a fact which is not insignificant. Let’s face it, Van Halen with Roth and Van Halen with Hagar are two completely different bands (we’ll skip over Van Halen with Cherone since everybody usually does – even if it *was* a decent album). Roth himself is such a unique vocalist and personality that it doesn’t matter who else fronts the band, they’ll never sound like the original VH. He’s a man with admittedly limited pipes who built his legend on a unique brand of charisma that overshadowed whatever limitations his natural ability presented. He’s also a guy who over the years fell further and further away from the 70’s guitar rock he helped pioneer, adding more of a novelty bent to his solo career before eventually winding up a parody of himself as, quite literally, a Vegas lounge singer. So now that he’s back in the fold, what do we make of it?
To my ears he sounds essentially the same as when he left after 1984, although he can’t quite push the histrionics like he once did. Meanwhile Eddie and Alex are back in their respective spots, picking up right where they left off when the band went on hiatus in 1998. Eddie’s son Wolfgang Van Bertinelli replaces Michael Anthony on bass in a change that is negligible outside of *maybe* the gang vocals (even then, barely). They’ve even dug into the archives to dust off some unfinished songs from the late 70’s to get the “vibe” back. Of course to me the sound isn’t all that different from their late 80’s/early 90’s stuff with Hagar, except Roth is now putting his unique spin on things. The guitars are that usual Van Halen clean and Eddie is shredding with his trademark mind-blowing skill. Meanwhile Alex continues to bash away with more cymbal than anyone else dare attempt. Yeah, they’ve gone back to what worked in the first place and the sound is, more or less, the same as it ever was. Which leaves us with the songs, and here, ladies and gents, is where I struggle to find the words, even though I’ll give it my best.
Yes, there are some really memorable tracks on A Different Kind Of Truth, as you’d expect. “China Town” and “Bullethead” are fine additions to the catalogue and “Stay Frosty” brings back that goofy spirit that seemed to disappear during the Van Hagar years. The lyrics are often fun, the melodies are frequently catchy, and they’ve even managed to capture some of the energy of their younger days. But at the same time, as much as I listen, I don’t hear those one or two “classic” VH songs. They were a band that for better or worse were known for having a lot of album filler; songs that were created with little more purpose than to give Eddie room to shred and Dave a chance to pop his vocal chords. And in the end that might be the one real criticism I can lob at the album; the one thing that keeps this from becoming a legendary return to prominence but instead makes it a solid entry into an otherwise crowded musical landscape – the songs just don’t rise above to that next level. Stuff is happening, it’s fun to listen to, and I marvel at the skill on display. But when it’s over, I don’t find myself going back to say, “I need to hear THAT track again”. You take 14 years off from your last album – 28 from your last with your original singer – and expectations are going to be pretty impossible to meet.
So yeah, that’s where I stand. A good – even very good album – that lacks greatness when it seems greatness is required. Which won’t stop the album from selling and certainly won’t tarnish their reputation. It’s just means we’re all getting old.
ALBUM RATING: 8.
3. You And Your Blues
4. China Town
5. Blood And Fire
7. As Is
9. The Trouble With Never
10. Outta Space
11. Stay Frosty
12. Big River
13. Beats Workin’
David Lee Roth (V), Eddie Van Halen (G), Wolfgang Van Halen (B), Alex Van Halen (D)
Produced by Van Halen and John Shanks