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Van Halen - "A Different Kind Of Truth" (CD)

Van Halen - "A Different Kind Of Truth" CD cover image

"A Different Kind Of Truth" track listing:

1. Tattoo (4:44)
2. She’s the Woman (2:58)
3. You and Your Blues (3:44)
4. China Town (3:15)
5. Blood and Fire (4:27)
6. Bullethead (2:32)
7. As Is (4:47)
8. Honeybabysweetiedoll (3:48)
9. The Trouble With Never (4:00)
10. Outta Space (2:54)
11. Stay Frosty (4:08)
12. Big River (3:52)
13. Beats Workin’ (5:04)

Reviewed by on February 17, 2012

"There is plenty here – from Dave’s cheek-planted-tongue to Eddie’s relentless heroics - to please any Van Halen fan over and over again."

Disclaimer 1: Van Halen was my first favorite metal band, back when I was getting into the metal genre. I would blast the stuff on my car stereo in high school and wonder why all the girls weren’t flocking to my door. I also know that compared to our modern subgenre’d extreme metal bands, Van Halen sounds like a tabby cat, but those same bands owe a lot to Eddie and co., even if we don’t want to admit it.

Disclaimer 2: “A Different Kind of Truth” is not as good as Van Halen’s seminal albums, like “I” or “1984.” But expecting this new album to be an all-time great is expecting too much. If it gets to “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” territory I’ll be psyched. “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” is criminally underrated just because it is a Hagar album, by the way. “Poundcake,” “Man on a Mission,” “The Dream is Over” and “Top of the World” are all classic Van Halen cuts. Seriously, listen to the actual music – they share the same rock n’ roll DNA that spawned all of Van Halen’s DLR classics. Okay, rant over.

Disclaimer 3: Eddie is still great. He clearly has oodles of riffs and sweet solos sitting in the barn ready to get taken for a ride, and he parades plenty of them here. Album opener and single “Tattoo” has a killer solo and a hook that will be lodged in your brain for days. “China Town” has a tapped intro, careening solo and driving riff that harkens all the way back to “II.” “Bullethead” is two-and-a-half minutes of an Eddie showcase; his tapped fills are instantly impressive. He’s still got that faux-blues groove too, as “Stay Frosty” is “Ice Cream Man” Part Two and is surprisingly successful. “As Is” has a wild solo and fun clean-picked bridge. The entirety of “A Different Kind of Truth” is littered with Eddie’s gems, and is a worthwhile album on the strength of Eddie’s playing alone.

Disclaimer 4: David Lee Roth sounds fine I guess, but he does not have “it” anymore. The best songs – like album standout “Outta Space” – leverage Diamond Dave’s new lower purr instead of his falsetto croon that has since left him for younger men. He’s still got the rhythmic sensibility and eye-twinkle of old, but he can’t back it up with fireworks, and Dave’s faltering power let’s down much if Eddie’s fine work; examples include “China Town” and the surprisingly good “Diver Down”-meets-“Balance” of “Blood and Fire.”

Disclaimer 5: They need Michael Anthony back. Not for his bass playing - Wolfgang fills the “we just need someone to play some bass chords” role just fine - but the backing vocals are brutal. Anytime the band goes into the high register gang vocals is a fail. And they are painful fails, as those backing vocals were the cherry on top of the sundae (remember “Panama” and “Runnin’ With the Devil?”). “She’s the Woman” would be a classic Van Halen cut if it had Michael Anthony backing things up.

Disclaimer 6: Van Halen can still compose great rock n’ roll. “A Different Kind of Truth” clocks in at 50 minutes over 13 songs, with seven of the songs less than four minutes long. Cuts like “China Town,” “Outta Space” and “Bullethead” show short, sweet, and focused works best, as the band doesn’t have a chance to wander. Once the songs pass the magic four-minute mark, we start to get more of Alex’s drumming (meh), Wolfgang’s bass (meh), Dave’s two-decades-on range (ouch) and the previously-derided backing vocals (more ouch).

Disclaimer 7: “A Different Kind of Truth” is inconsistent. “As Is” is mediocre on the whole despite Eddie’s licks, “Honeybabysweetiedoll” is a misfire, “The Trouble with Never” doesn’t mesh parts, “Big River” never gets to the “Runnin With the Devil” heights it is obviously aiming for, and “Beats Workin’” is about twice as long as it should be.

Disclaimer 8: While this isn’t a Van Halen classic (see Disclaimer #2), “A Different Kind of Truth” is still a surprisingly good album. With music like this it all boils down to the quality of the riffs, songs, and hooks, and Eddie and Dave have the talent to drop good bits like half-eaten cookies drop crumbs. There is plenty here – from Dave’s cheek-planted-tongue to Eddie’s relentless heroics - to please any Van Halen fan over and over again.

Welcome back boys.

Highs: “Outta Space” will end up being a classic Van Halen cut.

Lows: The backing vocals are missing Michael Anthony and are horrid.

Bottom line: Inconsistent but overall triumphant return for this classic band.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)