Album review for Van Halen’s ‘A Different Kind of Truth’

Van Halen
A Different Kind of Truth
Interscope Records
****

By Martin Popoff

“A Different Kind of Truth” finds Edward Van Halen storming back, this after 14 years of shuffling around the house, tinkering with gear and punctuated by the odd tour and attendant drama — worst with Sammy Hagar, dullest with Gary Cherone and slap-happy, life-affirming any time Diamond Dave (aka David Lee Roth)  is involved.

Van Halen A Different Kind of TruthThe band’s new album by the almost-classic lineup … well, it’s a corker: hot-clocked with steaming riffs, fluid leads both composed and level-headed. Solid songs from the rich-of-melody “Tattoo” through to “Beats Workin’,” are some of at least five on here I recognize (without the dutiful research) as a re-working of a non-LP band original from the ’70s. Nothing wrong with that, because most are summarily overhauled, with new lyrics from Roth, who spends much of the record stringing together quips, witticisms and aphorisms barely partitioned by theme – ha! If Ed plundered the band’s demos for ideas, Dave seems to have plundered his eccentric autobiography, issued in ’98: the same year Cherone starred on a Van Halen car-wreck of a record.

Roth’s fortune cookie lessons are a bit much at times, but mostly entertaining, and his vocals are very cool and expressive; his age shows only on the new persona he uses when reaching for the high notes. Still, so much fun at every turn and every speed and intensity, “A Different Kind Of Truth” gathers added integrity through how heavy it is, as well as how sizzling and authentic the band’s difficult “brown sound” has been reprised. At the lighter end, don’t look for Van-Hagar hair Halen, but the same sort of arch-atmospheric things we got in the old days, exemplified by “You And Your Blues” (a bit “Van Halen III” to this one), and “Blood And Fire,” which could have fit Steve Vai-tied on Roth’s “Skyscraper” solo album. “China Town” is a chopsy double-bass pounder, again, an imaginable easy fit to some past record, maybe “Fair Warning” or “Diver Down.”

“Bullethead” features Ed’s best riff since “Unchained,” even if the chorus seems forced at the Roth end of things. The overall vibe of this thing strikes somewhere between “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” and the aforementioned “Fair Warning” — aggressive, substantial, all-business, from a band with more than its fair share of short, tossed-off albums goofed up by cover versions and bad album covers. One could complain that Van Halen has been almost too studious in creating the record fans might draw up (“Stay Frosty” checks the “Ice Cream Man” box like “Black Ice” checked all the boxes for AC/DC), but given the casualness of so many of the band’s songs in the past, I’m glad they’ve shown up with heads screwed on straight, everything locked down, utility and value at every turn, eccentricities and egos checked at the door, save for Dave, who seems to have bamboozled the brothers and stolen the show.

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