Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Beats Workin'

This review was written for Popblerd as part of a group take on the VH album.

So after a month of previews and slow reveals, Van Halen’s A Different Kind of Truth is finally out and one thing is clear: We were bamboozled. VH pulled a bait-and-switch by releasing the worst song on the album, “Tattoo,” as the first single. And even that song has proven relentlessly catchy. But the rest of the album contains the hardest rocking VH music since Fair Warning. No synths, no ballads, no covers. Just balls-out big rock that belies the fact that three-quarters of this band is pushing 60. I was prepared for a sad spectacle, but man, was I wrong.

David Lee Roth, on his first album with the Van Halen brothers in nearly 30 years, picks up where he left off. He’s not screaming as much as he did in the old days, but his vocals are strong and he’s as cocky and self-assured as he ever was. DLR still likes to do the old talking up the bridge shtick, but I’m okay with that. Some doof on Twitter argued the other day that Dave’s lyrics are terrible, but he’s missing the point. We’re not looking for friggin’ Dostoevsky here; we want clever lyrics with big choruses that leave room for thick riffs and blistering guitar solos. Mission accomplished.

Eddie VH may not be reinventing the guitar like he did in 1978, but he can still fire off blinding solos that electrify. The man’s had serious issues over the years, but holy hell, he’s playing like a man possessed here. Michael Anthony’s backing vocals are definitely missed, but young Wolfgang VH proves himself a skilled bassist who can keep up with his dad and uncle Alex on breakneck passages in “China Town,” “Bullethead” and “Outta Space.” Occasionally, the new material sounds a little too much like the old classics; “Stay Frosty” has an “Ice Cream Man” vibe, complete with the bluesy acoustic intro segueing into an electric stomp.

Much has been made of Eddie resurrecting bits and pieces of old unreleased VH songs for this album. Obviously, he was reaching back to that early VH sound, so why the hell not? It’s still too early to tell where this album truly falls in the VH canon. The band had a lot to prove and live up to, and as far as I’m concerned, it delivers on all counts. Cynics will point out that this album is just a cash grab. DLR and the VH brothers had some serious hate on for each other for a lot of years there and it’s hard to believe that everything’s all love and happiness all of a sudden. They may not even talk to each when they get off stage. But as long as they keep kicking ass like they do on A Different Kind of Truth, who really cares?

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