Album Review: Van Halen, “A Different Kind of Truth” (Interscope)
For Van Halen, now is not the time for innovation, and that time might never come again for the band. No, what is required for “A Different Kind of Truth” is restoration, and consequently the first Van Halen album recorded with David Lee Roth in 29 years sounds like an unearthed artifact. In a certain sense, “A Different Kind of Truth” truly is such an article, constructed largely from songs written in the mid-1970s, some of which appeared on the Gene Simmons-produced demo the group recorded in 1976. This could be construed as cutting corners, but when a band collectively decides to create a classicist album, attempting to replicate the spirit of Van Halen’s first two albums with entirely new songs would probably not be nearly as successful as the rebuilt parts that power “A Different Kind of Truth.”
“Tattoo,” the first single, does not factor in this success: Edward Van Halen’s sludgy riffing and Roth’s compressed vocals feel tired straight out of the gate, and the song desperately needs the high harmonies formerly provided by departed bassist Michael Anthony. But this could just be artful misdirection, because subsequent tracks such as “She’s the Woman,” “You and Your Blues” and “China Town” unexpectedly deliver the intensity of old, setting the stage for the one song that truly rises to the level of classic Van Halen, “Blood and Fire.” Everything about “Blood and Fire,” from its instantly memorable chorus to John Shanks’ spacious recording of Alex Van Halen’s drums, suggests that the band conjured the old magic from muscle memory.
On those tracks and the later “Big River,” bassist Wolfgang Van Halen does a fine job of replicating Anthony’s traditional roles, but the biggest revelation of “A Different Kind of Truth” is how important the tortuous and delicate Roth/EVH alliance is to this operation. After the temporary jolt of “5150,” Eddie Van Halen seemed at a loss for inspiration, and “Truth” suggests that Roth’s irrepressible Borscht Belt scatting, as heard in fine form on the “Ice Cream Man” sequel, “Stay Frosty,” is needed to launch the guitarist skyward. When Roth breaks the fourth wall on “Blood and Fire” and announces, “I told you I was coming back. Say you missed me. Say it like you mean it,” it’s with the confidence heard on the lion’s share of “A Different Kind of Truth” that Roth already knows the response.
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