I KNEW MelodicRock.com's Andrew would go NUTS about it...
Van Halen - A Different Kind Of Truth
David Lee Roth: Vocals
Eddie Van Halen: Guitars
Alex Van Halen: Drums
Wolfgang Van Halen: Bass
Tracks: Tattoo · She's The Woman · You And Your Blues · China Town · Blood And Fire · Bullethead · As Is · Honeybabysweetiedoll · The Trouble With Never · Outta Space · Stay Frosty · Big River · Beats Workin'
Produced By: John Shanks/Ross Hogarth/Van Halen
Running Time: 50 minutes
The monkey is off their back. They did it. It only took three attempts and a decade or so, but something most thought would never happen – a new studio album with original vocalist David Lee Roth – has been completed, delivered and actually released.
And what's even better – it's damn good!
David Lee Roth returned to the Van Halen fold in 1996 long enough to record two acclaimed new studio tracks before things went pear-shaped. There were additional attempts to make new music in secret in 2000 and again 2006. In 2007 Dave officially rejoined and toured into 2008 with the band before retiring again to figure out what was next.
And 'next' was to be the only move the band could make. The only move fans would let them make. After 3 years of album making rumors, the news it was happening finally settled somewhere into 'fact' during 2010.
Without any real insight from the band thus far, how this album was actually and eventually made will, I think, remain an eternal mystery in the same realms as 'how did the pyramids of Giza get built' or 'what exactly makes those crop circles'?
The Van Halen trio (Ed, Al and Wolfgang) seemingly wrote and recorded during 2010 with Ross Hogarth, while 2011 sessions were helmed by John Shanks, then mixed and mixed again by Hogarth. Sadly the album's liner notes give no further insight into what, when and how.
David Lee Roth was long rumored to be recording his vocals elsewhere and no evidence has been submitted to suggest the guys made this record in an old-school, all-for-one in-the-studio team environment.
Whatever they had to do to get it done I guess is ok, as the result sounds like a team. It sounds like a Van Halen record and is something the band's original fans have been waiting since 1984 for.
Further conjecture over the making of the album is pointless without any further insight, so it is perhaps more constructive to just look at the result. And let's face it – that's all we really care about as fans.
A Different Kind Of Truth is heavy. It's energetic. It's bold. And it delivers. And none of those things were a given. How many of us doubted the guys could recapture the best of their past and infuse it with new energy? Me for one…I wanted this to be good….I wanted it to be great. But I just couldn't see how it could be given the dysfunctional nature of the band. But I need not have worried. And it seems the fanbase has also been really invigorated by how good this album is.
Every track has its place and there's not a dull moment to be had. No filler! Not one single track. Even with each of my favourite Van Hagar albums, there was normally one song I didn't buy into. But not here. An nor there should be after such a long wait!
The album is surprisingly heavy, very upbeat and has energy beyond description. This is not a 'chorus' album. And I guess that might be the one point that some fans or casual VH listeners might grasp on to and bitch about. But the old school VH fans know better. Van Halen never were a chorus band until they started evolving with 1984 and then into the Sammy Hagar era.
Hagar brought a different style of songwriting to the band – the anthemic choruses came, but at the same time, other Dave fuelled elements departed. Early Van Halen was about swagger. It was about attitude and it was about groove. It was about smart ass lyrics and free flying guitar parts and songs that chopped and changed without notice.
Fans of Van Hagar might feel a little alienated, but you know what….that would normally include me. I love Dave solo, but for me it was always the passion and direction of the Hagar era albums that appealed to me like few other bands did. But with that said, I'm so appreciating what has been delivered here and my admiration of David Lee Roth has never been higher.
This album is more a reflection of the classic vibe the band had in their early days. And why not – at least 7 of the album's tracks were molded at least in part from the band's first demos in the mid-late 70s. The band reached into the past to bridge the gap between Dave fronted records. It was a move that could have backfired, but it works.
Here today the songs sound as fresh as they possibly could be. David Lee Roth's vocals have been carefully molded into the groove of the album - it's the best I've heard him sing since Eat Em And Smile. And the Van Halen's are simply stunning. And to top it all off - ADKOT features a monster sound and a clear mix. The guitars have real and immediate impact and the music is a finely balanced mix of old classic familiar Van Halen along with and some fresh and recent Van Halen too.
It is everything Dave Halen fans have been waiting since 1984 for, but I think there's plenty there too for Van Hagar fans. For Van Halen fans, period.
A Different Kind Of Truth is the album Van Halen had to make. Not only did they have to put the failed Van Halen 3 album behind them, they had to deal with the ghost of Sammy Hagar and the incredibly unpopular decision to move on without founding member Michael Anthony. Given the choice, I don't think any fan would vote otherwise than for Mike's return, but it simply wasn't going to happen.
Yes, he is missed and his backing vocals are something that this album could have further benefitted from.
But one must accept this decision out of fairness for his replacement – Eddie's son Wolfgang. Wolf was placed in the unenviable position of replacing an iconic member of an iconic band and feigning off credibility issues due to how he got the 'job'. But looking at it without emotion, what father wouldn't love to play alongside his son?
If Wolfgang has struggled to pay his dues up until this point, I'd say that he's now ready to stand on his own merit. There are no album credits either way – all songs (presumably written and performed) by VanHalen/Roth.
So we must presume that's Wolf on bass and if so as I believe it is, he totally rips on this album. The bass presence is huge and album's almighty swagger is thanks in part to those bass parts and the rhythm section as a whole.
Alex Van Halen proves once again what an integral part of the Van Halen sound his drumming is. He is all over this album with more drum fills and slamming beats than I think I have ever heard from him, at least since the 5150 album anyway. Totally immense and the recording of his parts is also amongst the best I have heard. There's a raw/live energy to the whole record, but the drumming in particular just explodes with life here.
David Lee Roth's part in this album must also be spotlighted. He may not make much sense in real life, but on record, the clarity is all-so-clear. He was part of the classic Van Halen sound and to recreate that, the band was to have to walk a fine line between recapturing the old (some 30 years back now!) without sounding dated, out of place or irrelevant and also try and inject some freshness to his approach. And I think they have successfully done that.
The lyrics on this album are pure and classic Dave. There's no one like him on Earth and not for the first time I am really appreciating his take on life. Vocally I am also very impressed. However, I do believe that Dave's vocals may have held this album up as rumored. He has a mammoth job of keeping up with the band here and if it proved hard to achieve, I am not surprised.
But however his vocals were recorded and crafted into the mix, I applaud the result. Whether he's growing along in a more spoken word style or striving for some impossibly high style licks, his efforts are convincing and match the music – even when the band moves out of classic VH style and moves into a more contemporary sphere.
That brings us to Eddie Van Halen, the man himself. Well, whatever myth you believe or whatever state of mind you think he might be in; the man can rock. Eddie sounds more alive now than I have heard him in years. Well…it's been years since we last heard him on record. But he totally delivers on this album. Eddie is a man possessed on this album. It is his guitar work that makes this album what it is. Let's face it – if he wasn't on-song, it wouldn't matter what anyone else delivered.
But he is…on fire…and more. This is a smoking display of guitar riffs and tricks and importantly – just a beautiful tone throughout. Eddie moves between the old, the middle ground and the new with ease and merges it all together for a seamless, cohesive all-out assault on the senses. His soloing is beautiful, the riffs totally in your face and the structure of the songs maximizes the value of the guitar in each track. One of my favourite guitarists ever is back!
The production is typically low on top-end tones, preferring to stick to a rawer, live feel that at times reminds me of the For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge sonic – an album that strangely enough was anything but raw or live-in the-studio.
The album mixes classic early Van Halen with parts of the Van Hagar catalogue and even a little Van Halen 3, which is probably down to the own natural evolution of the band's sound when not reverting to the old demos used in part on the album.
And even when these original 70s tracks have been reworked, they are reworked into a contemporary vibe and with energy to match the rest of the album.
Track by Track:
Tattoo – the song that told the world the band was back, but the world wasn't convinced! And neither was I. Fun yes, but standing on its own, somewhat unconvincing. Who knew that the most commercial and perhaps weakest track of the alum would be the ideal single and lead track? I still find it an odd kind of opening track, but placed up-front it does get it out of the way and it does have its place. I love the verse hook for example and the solo is still cool. Anywhere else on the album and the momentum of the pounding energy might have been ruptured. The song was reinvented from the original demo called Down In Flames, but to me doesn't sound like an old school number at all. It's also the only song with any hint of keyboards.
She's The Woman – a song that closely matches the original demo of the same name kicks the album into a higher gear and immediately signals the band are here with a message. It has a great presence and a dirty riff to kick it off. A simple chorus in typical Van Roth style. Heavy groove and a sweet instrumental bridge into the solo and a pounding rhythm section. EVH states unequivocally – I'm back!
You And Your Blues – The first of the 'new' compositions and one that for me merges the sound of Van Hagar and Van Roth. The chorus is classic era and the verse and that dark, dirty guitar riff could have come straight off Balance. I love the intro and the move into a big sonic blast. Dave sounds amazing. Classic VH meets darker dirty style like Humans Being or From Afar even. A monster song and fast solo there, some big harmonies and generally a cool anthemic blast. Alex's drum sound is killer and really drives the song.
China Town – What a classic! Shreds from the first note and then BAM BAM BAM, the drums bang in and hit overdrive in a triple-timed frenzied rush. Fast and furious folks. A short Dave style chorus (typical throughout the album) gives minimal respite from the onslaught. The guitar sound is more like Balance to these ears. Furious solo and drum flurry then back to a steady old school Dave, before the song finishes exactly as it started.
Blood And Fire – Another favourite of mine if I had to pick them. The style feels old school, but the sound is more contemporary. It's a cool blend. And the fast pace of the album continues. A simple, but instantly memorable chorus and some nice heavy riffing around the song. Has a 1984 feel to it, especially with the guitar picking. Surprise melodic bridge intro some tasty picking and a blazing heavy solo! Feels like the tempo picks up even more as it goes, yet it doesn't in reality. Apparently a left over demo from the 1984 album called Ripley – it makes perfect sense.
Bullethead - Fast and furious again and WTF was that guitar intro??!!! Another old 70s track reworked in relative comparison with the original. Absolutely furious tempo and riffing throughout and another stand out solo. Alex goes mad on drums and the bass sizzles along with intent and real groove. A simple fast one word chorus - classic Dave. But heavy and fast! Song includes the album's title in the lyrics. Fast, hard rocking fun.
As Is – I'm loving this tune too, despite that bizarre count-in! This is one brutally heavy riff. Perhaps the heaviest riff I have ever heard from Eddie. And once that extended intro disappears, it's more double-timed hard rock fury. This super-fast rocker has a Hot For Teacher vibe. How old are these guys again? Great little chorus and a big BIG sound. Strong harmony vox from DLR - who continues to sound incredible. What a solo! Fast furious shredding before diving back into a Metallica heavy riff and then a Hot For Teacher style spoken bridge. And the close out is amazing. Guitars everywhere and supremely dark and heavy.
Honeybabycutiedoll – This is one of those twisted musical interlude tracks that Van Halen just has to have. And normally drives me nuts…or to the skip button at least. But this is just so good. The first half of the song tries to be normal, with Dave talking over a hard riff and a short melodic chorus popping up a couple of times. But from then on it's all Eddie. This could be the most bizarre guitar sound I've ever heard from EVH. Another uptempo track, a real groover. And boy, those riffs are heavy.
The Trouble With Never – is yet another uptempo rocker featuring more classic DLR lyrics and a chorus that has those wonderful backing vocals back again. Dave is having a blast and the groove of this album is unreal. This is a big commercial rocker that follows the last track perfectly. I could see this as a single.
Outta Space – this is another reworked 70s track, originally titled Let's Get Rocking. The riff is so familiar when you play it, but the rest of the song has a new life. That guitar sound and drum pattern is so old school VH. Dave takes the vocal into a high range, nice to hear. Another slamming display of rhythm.
Dave fans are going to love this. Stay Frosty – is just brilliant and so Van Roth. An acoustic blues intro while Dave's quirky lyrics grab your attention. More spoken word stuff before...BAM!, the song turns ultra-heavy and launches into a monster groove. Mammoth close out with Alex going nuts on drums. Swagger and style you just can't manufacture.
The last two songs have a very familiar feel. Both are reworked 70s demos (Big Trouble and Put Out The Lights respectively) and both just have that simple classic early Van Halen feel.
Big River - More groove and lots of fantastic riffing. Dave goes for a big vocal again and the song is again pretty fast and in your face again. Simple chorus as is the norm. God the guitar sound is just HUGE!!!! Another great solo and a bit longer this time, mixing riffs and picking.
Beats Working – Great way to close the album. A hard edged riff and matching drum beat. Fun rocker with more reminders of 1984. The longest track on the album at 5 minutes and more or less defies explaining!
The Bottom Line
What can I say in closing that hasn't already been said? To those too lazy to read the whole thing – Van Halen are back, and bigger and heavier than could possibly have been imagined. The individual musical performances within this album are sublime and mesmerizing and despite the use of some older demos to create a foundation, the album sounds fresh and invigorating.
David Lee Roth is on record stating: "People want the reunion….No one will pay respect to what any of us do [musically] until we get the reunion out of the way."
That's precisely it. They have now done that and done themselves, their fans and the Van Halen name proud. It needed to be good, thank God it's even better than expected.
But where to from here? This might be the last Van Halen album….let's hope to hell it's not. It might be the last with Dave. Who knows. Whatever the future presents, at least they proved ALL critics wrong with this monster record.
In 1995 the band released a killer song called Humans Being. I loved it. I loved the album previous to it - Balance. I couldn't wait to hear what was next. Now I know...
"When you turn on your stereo, does it return the favor?" It does now Dave…it does now!
Van Halen 2/18/12 (Part 1) Louisville, KY @ KFC Yum! Center - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJOiLEKrx9c
Van Halen...Brown M&Ms - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YwHO2HnwfnA
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