Video of the Day: Van Halen, “Tattoo”
Blame our older brothers for blasting them out of their six-by-nine coaxial speakers every morning, or blame the late-1970s rock radio programmers desperate for an American hard rock band to champion, or just blame us, damn it, because for all the cool we tried to accumulate over the course of three decades we just could not let go of them, but at least two generations of suburban kids got the aesthetics of their genetics altered by Van Halen. Most of us only became aware of Led Zeppelin after they were gone, so what we had left in the early 1980s was the popped-up, sexed-up, goofball-adrenaline Sunset Stripped version, and without exposure to punk, Van Halen became a tool of parental irritation supreme and the insanely loud expression of the teenage id, and in its own way, it rocked hard.
And this is why we cut 75 percent of Van Halen so much slack for so long. After David Lee Roth left/was fired/otherwise went solo, we tried to like the Sammy Hagar version for 10 years until that thing ran into the ditch. Then Roth reunited with the Van Halen brothers and Michael Anthony for about five minutes in 1996, recorded some translucently pale imitations of classic-era VH and split again, which is why the dissolute and disposable 1998 Gary Cherone version made 99.9738 percent of the dwindling fan base want to take Edward’s “Pancake” drill to their eardrums: it wasn’t entirely because the Cherone-led Van Halen sucked like a Dyson, although it did. It was because we were tired of being jerked around by guys who could not understand just how uninteresting they were without one another, and hiring the guy from Extreme just felt like the Van Halen Boys had gotten cocky, believing that they could hire any damn guy (or Sass Jordan, apparently) to front them. They were greeted with a collective “no” and got sent to the wilderness for 10 years.
So after the health scares, questionable cures, the wired-up Roth/Hagar cross-country hatefest and a Hagar/Van Halen reunion tour that seemed to everyone watching like something much smaller than a half measure, Roth reunited with the Van Halens, who brought in Edward’s son Wolfgang after Michael Anthony sided with Sammy. The 2008 tour was big, bountiful and full of reasonably convincing love, and Roth seemed more like himself than he had since about 1986.
And now we have “Tattoo,” the first single from “A Different Kind of Truth,” due out on Interscope on February 7. This midtempo slight return about a housewife getting a tramp stamp and some palaver about the Civil War features the band sounding more like itself than it has in nearly three decades, mainly because Roth is present and accounted for, and it works for the most part because our standards for these guys are down somewhere around “just don’t embarrass yourself.” They do far better than that for three guys pushing 60 and another pushing legal drinking age.
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