In the 1980′s, “hair metal” was king. As a record label, if you had a band with big hair, makeup and a sappy power ballad, chances are you were going to have at least moderate success.
This standard caused a slew of sound-alike bands. However there were a number of bands that sonically set themselves apart from the glam logjam. None did this better than Van Halen, who released their new album “A Different Kind of Truth” today.
The record is the first full album the band has recorded with original singer David Lee Roth in more than 25 years.
The opening track “Tattoo” is also the lead single for the release. It opens with vocal harmonies and then breaks into a riff that is undeniably Eddie Van Halen. This infectiously catchy, but ultimately forgettable track, is an assurance to fans that the album isn’t going to stray too far from the band they’ve grown to love.
With the next track “She’s the Woman” the bar is raised. This song sounds like it could have been released during the hay-day of Van Halen and been a hit.
Roth’s famous bluesy vocal styling takes center stage on “You and Your Blues.” However Roth is supported by a mammoth staccato riff from Eddie that will conjure up memories of jamming “Panama.”
“China Town” is the Eddie Van Halen throw down I was anticipating. An opening progressive mini-solo transitions crisply into an up-tempo, galloping, guitar assault. This track could’ve been much longer, and could’ve been much more had Roth’s vocals matched the intensity of his rhythm section.
The tempo is pulled back a bit on “Blood and Fire,” which despite the name, sounds like a song one would play while kicking back at an outdoor barbecue. That is the case, until the solo screeches in, which feels like the most emotive solo on the album.
I could be way off here, but in my opinion, “Bullethead” starts off sounding way more like a Gun’s N Roses B-side than a Van Halen song. This song definitely has an edge to it that the previous tracks have lacked, although at the expense of some catchiness.
“As Is” is a drunken screaming roller-coaster ride through the Sunset Strip on a hot summer night. This is highlighted by an epic sweeping solo that will leave the listener wanting more. The song manages to squeeze together the band’s trademark progressive flair, up-tempo franticness and Roth’s attitude in just the right amounts.
The riff at the beginning of “Honeybabysweetiedoll” is absolutely unstoppable, and Roth really gets his crooning going on this track. When the song goes half-time, you will be compelled to bang your head.
Speaking of groove, “The Trouble with Never,” is a masterfully executed wah-wah-powered high-flying adventure. You can tell the band made a conscious effort to not let convention get in the way of writing great music, as they have for the length of their careers.
“Outta Space” is an admirable effort, but for the first time on the album, Roth’s vocals feel strained. And, despite a unique chord progression and some interesting additional guitar work, it has the feel of a filler track.
I never thought anything on this album would remind me of School House Rock but the intro to “Stay Frosty” managed to do it. The acoustic passage is abruptly ended by blasting electric guitar hits. This track features the lyric “If you want to be a monk you gotta cook a lot of rice.”
Another song that sounds like it would’ve flown in the 1980s is “Big River.” If you liked any of Van Halen’s hits, you’ll like this song.
“A Different Kind of Truth” reaches its conclusion with “Beats Workin.’ ” Part slow metal jam, part mid-tempo dirty groove, topped off with Roth’s wails, it’s a fitting end to the album.
As a whole album, “A Different Kind of Truth” really exceeded my expectations and may even find Van Halen reaching a younger audience desperately in need of some radio rock heroes.