It takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong: I have been wrong. I thought this new Van Halen album was going to be another run-of-the-mill, Dinosaurs of Rock Ca$h grab. I thought Van Halen were leveraging the last bit of goodwill the band had in order to pay for second (or third, or fourth) wives and grand babies (!). In my defense, the band’s choice of “Tattoo” as the lead single was pretty bonehead (unless you think putting your worst foot-first is a good idea).
So I downloaded A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH on Friday, mostly because I have deep psychological problems/I hate myself. To my shock, once you get past the floating turd that is “Tattoo,” the album is pretty damn good. A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH is not so different from classic, late 1970s-era Van Halen. The reason for this is because all these songs were written 30+ years ago by the band. Yes, the “new” Van Halen album is full of cast-offs and throw aways (the B-sides, “b-sides” if you will) and while that might sound like a bad thing, it turns out it’s not.
Think about it terms of money: back in the day the young, kickass Van Halen wrote some songs and put them into a rock ‘n roll savings account. You know, for when they were older and wanted to retire. This “song savings plan” has paid Van Halen Corp. huge dividends in form of modern songs with a classic feel.
But enough bullshit, let’s talk about the songs.
So like I said, the boys put their worst foot-forward with “Tattoo.” It’s not only the lead single, but it’s also the first track of the record. I’m not sure who it is in the Van Halen camp that has the massive hardon for this song, but I’m pretty sure it’s that fat-fuck Wolfgang. Just kidding, I know Wolfgang’s opinons don’t matter (except to this daddy), I’m sure the whole organization thinks “Tattoo” is a “hip” modern-taken on Van Halen. But it sucks.
The rest of the album, however, is solid as a rock. The second track, “She’s A Woman” is, for me, the album’s true opener. The lyrics are a bit much, with David Lee Roth howling about how normal he is….you know, he drives a Chevy and…lives in his car (?). While I’m usually annoyed when millionaires wail about how blue collar they are, I decided to not bitch because the guitar work on this song is phenomenal. In fact, Eddie Van Halen is on fire the whole record. It’s pretty awesome to see that the dude can still shred. And beyond that, the playing isn’t contrived or robotic–nor is it a parody of his younger-self. Diamond Dave’s voice is lower and rougher, but Eddie’s guitar playing is exactly as awesome as it was back in the day.
“You and Your Blues” should have been the first single, in my opinion. It’s more understated than the dunderheaded “Tattoo,” but that’s why I like it. The song has a great, chuggy-sounding guitar tone and a really awesome Rolling Stones reference in the lyrical hook.
My favorite track on A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH is “Blood and Fire.” This was, you might recall, one of the tracks the band released partially leading up to the album’s release. It’s a great song and the lyrics fit an older, more mature Van Halen. The band has “come through blood and fire” so to speak and the fact that they’re still standing should be a source of pride for them. The car/racing metaphors are classic Van Halen and reminded me of “Panama.” This is definitely one that they’re going to be playing live on the new tour.
Other standouts on the album include the super-heavy “As Is” and the cheeky-as-hell “Stay Frosty.” The latter being a spiritual sequel to “Ice Cream Man” off of Van Halen’s first record. It’s worth noting that “Stay Frosty” with it’s acoustic guiar opening, is probably the only track to not come kicking and screaming out of the gate. This is a hard-charing Van Halen record (which is probably why the album art is an old train, get it? Old train).
Are there problems other than “Tattoo”? Of course. David Lee Roth’s voice is rougher and his “raps” aren’t as funny as they used to be. There’s a particularly embarrassing one in the middle of “The Trouble With Never.” The songs themselves are pretty good, but let’s face it–nothing on A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH is going to become a classic Van Halen song. They aren’t going to play “Outta Space” or “Big River” at a ballgame. These are leftover tracks and the only reason we’re accepting them is because we’ve lowered our collective expectations for Van Halen.
On the other hand, this album does not tarnish the Van Halen brand in any way. I can crank it up in the summer time and not be embarrassed when I hit a stop light, which is nice. I think all parties involved have lucked out. Having a backlog of songs to pull from has probably spared us all from a truly awful, gut-wrenching experience. Our heroes didn’t fall, and for me that’s good enough.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH gets a “B.”