The latest incarnation of Van Halen is (from left) Wolfgang Van Halen, David Lee Roth, Wolfie's Uncle Alex and his father, Eddie.
"A Different Kind of Truth"Van Halen www.van-halen.comInterscope Records
----- CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I'll be the first to admit that I was expecting to not like Van Halen's new album, "A Different Kind of Truth," its first release in nearly 14 years. A funny thing happened on the way to the throw-'em-under-the-bus line, though: the VH boys delivered a pretty darn good collection of tunes.I'd heard a lot of pre-release negativity surrounding "Truth," including the fact that some of the songs were rehashes of older, unreleased material. Case in point: the album's opener and lead single, "Tattoo," has been revealed as a revved-up version of "Down in Flames" which dates back to 1977.Another notable "oldie" is "She's the Woman," a survivor from VH's Gene Simmons-financed demo, circa '76. I could go on and on, but the fact of the matter is that these and any other unearthed archives sound at least as vibrant as 99.9 percent of what is being passed off as present-day "hard rock."
The biggest reason to the album's retro vibe is, of course, the re-emergence of vocalist David Lee Roth. For many, Diamond Dave's spandex-clad, balls-in-your-face bravado is, was and always will be the essence of Van Halen.About the only things missing 28 years after "1984" are Roth's gratuitous Tarzanian war-whoops and 10 pounds of hair. Attitude, though, has never been in short supply for Dave, and "Truth" once again finds the singer playing prince as well as pauper ("You and Your Blues" and "Big River") while chasin' chicks ("Honeybabysweetiedoll") and hangin' out ("Beats Workin'").Eddie Van Halen, the guitarist who re-defined rock and roll nearly 35 years ago, puts forth his most definitive stamp since '81s "Fair Warning." "China Town" and "Bullethead" flat out burn with, believe it or not, a little bit of speed-metal seasoning, while "As Is" could well be Ed's homage to the late "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott.As for his brother Alex, well, speaking of the guy who has played four
drum kits at once, let's just say that he is still bludgeoning and leave it at that. As if anything else needs to be said!The album's most lighthearted tune is "Stay Frosty." It's "Ice Cream Man, Vol. 2" with its acoustic intro followed by the full-band kamikaze onslaught, but isn't this approach what made it fun in the first place?I will say that the absence of founding bassist/harmony vocalist Michael Anthony is a bit of a sore spot for me. He was such an under-rated presence within Van Halen. I guess it's true: you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone!Wolfgang Van Halen puts forth an impressive debut on bass alongside Papa Ed and Uncle Al. Wolfie sounds like he's put in the hours studying the prowess of four-string maestro Billy Sheehan, and you can't go wrong interpreting those old Talas and Mr. Big licks!
We could just summon Mr. Peabody and Sherman and have them jet us back to 1985, because that's likely when this logical successor to "1984" would have landed. I loved the Sammy Hagar era and VH went places it never could have gone with Dave. However, in the rock and roll encyclopedia under "Van Halen," you'll see DLR's face front and center.So let's not hear any whining about "A Different Kind of Truth" being a throwback. Without apology, it is. More than anything, though, "Truth" is a testament to how enduring this band really is.