I mean, they had “The Material Girl” out there shamelessly doing her best to lip-sync to her own songs, all while surrounded by a supporting cast of at least 200 other performers, and enough lights to blind aliens on Pluto. I felt so dissatisfied.
Organizers of the Super Bowl should have consulted with me about who to pick as their musical guest. I know four guys who could have blown the roof off of Lucas Oil Stadium with nothing more than a drum set, two guitars, and a microphone; all while standing on a meager 10X20-foot stage. They go by the name of Van Halen – you may have heard of them.
If you really think about it, the scenario would have been perfect: Eddie, Alex, Wolfgang, and Diamond Dave emerge from the darkness; rip through Unchained and Runnin’ With The Devil; Eddie shreds through Eruption, bringing every man who’s watching to tears; then they wrap things up with Jump as the stadium nearly collapses under the stress created by the crowd’s unbridled energy.
We wouldn’t have heard Clint Eastwood afterwards talking about “half-time in America” either. Instead, we would have been a bullet lodged in the barrel of “Dirty” Harry Callahan’s .44 Magnum, as he stated, “Play time’s over, punks!”, blasting us out into the world to assert America’s dominance once again. We would have instantly felt rejuvenated; ready to grab the world by the tail and put it in our pocket. We’d all be having fun again. The economy would spike into the black. Even world peace would finally take hold.
Okay, the world peace part was a bit of a stretch – maybe.
You see, if Eddie and Alex Van Halen can regroup with David Lee Roth in the studio to record an entire album, all without the whole thing imploding on itself, I’d say there is hope for all of us.
A Different Kind of Truth, the group’s first new full-length recording with Roth at the helm in nearly three decades, is a soaring swell of sweet, fresh rarefied air that fills your nostrils with the rich aroma of good ol‘ rock ‘n‘ roll. Yes, you can even smell it.
Just don’t come at this new installment with the expectation of hearing something as powerful as Van Halen 1 and 2, the iconic 1984, or their best work-to-date, Fair Warning.
That’s not to say that Truth is any less meaningful. In fact, it could be argued that this is a pivotal point in Van Halen history. Can these guys really recapture the magic and avoid making a throw-away comeback album that gets pandered by fans and critics alike? The answer is unequivocally yes! All the essential elements are still intact here.
Diamond Dave exhibits his old, jolly self, even if his voice is a little coarse at times, and those higher notes don’t come quite as easily as they once did (not that he ever had tremendous range in the first place). At 56 years old, it’s an honest effort and you can hear Roth enjoying every single second on the mic.
During track #9, The Trouble With Never, Roth twice catechizes us listeners: “When was the last time you heard somethin’ for the first time?” and “When you turn on your stereo, does it return the favor?” Admittedly, I was looking inward to answer both questions and it’s admittedly been quite awhile since a band made me feel the fire inside. But quite honestly, the fire has undoubtedly returned with this new material.
Relying on several unreleased songs from the late-70‘s that have been reworked and freshened up, the new album plays right into Roth’s hands, most notably on the funked-up and sexy, She’s The Woman. DLR throws in his signature grunts, “wooooooooo’s”, and “yeahhhhhhhhh’s,” all mixed with his tall tale, non-sensical lyrical ingenuity that has allowed his one-liners to live on for decades. You’ll be singing right along with him in no time.
The Diamond-one gets plenty of support from Alex and Wolfgang (Eddie’s 20 year old son) as well.
Alex, now 58, is in remarkable form all the way from start to finish. He masterfully handles everything from the album’s straight-forward, love-it-or-hate-it first single, Tattoo; to the barn burning juggernaut of, China Town, which will have you reminiscing about the first time you heard Hot For Teacher, wondering how a drummer could keep such impeccable time and force without falling apart amidst Eddie’s lightning fast chops. He hasn’t lost a step.
Wolfgang hangs just fine with his dad and two uncles (one by birth, the other by fate). Unfortunately, he’s gonna find it hard to escape the endless comparisons to the now-absent Michael Anthony, but that’s out of his hands. Wolfgang isn’t out of place one bit on the entire record, and it is largely his backing vocals that allow the band to carry out the trademark Van Halen harmony that really separated them from the pack all along.
On the closing track, Beats Workin’, Wolfie closely emulates the Beatle’s, Day Tripper, as the song winds down to finish out the album; a nice touch that I would hope he came up with all by himself. It’s the approaching 50-show tour, however, where he’ll have to be in top shape when he performs such bass-laden classics like, Runnin’ With The Devil, Beautiful Girls, and Everybody Wants Some. Fans will expect perfection.
Nevertheless, A Different Kind Of Truth undoubtedly belongs to the man, Mr. Edward Van Halen.
The six-string virtuoso who rewrote the rules on what a guitar could and should do, plays out of his f-ing mind on all 13 tracks. Running up and down the fret board with the ease of how you and I breathe oxygen, Eddie dazzles us with the blazing speed, finger-taps, and infectious, heavy-ass riffs that he is universally known for. At other times, he’s bending the whammy bar and strings to such great lengths that you wonder how in the world his axe doesn’t submit under the strain. You just can’t get this stuff no more. It is absolutely beautiful!!!
On, As Is, Eddie’s elastic playing range is on full display as his speed and ferocity fluctuate like a cat chasing a red laser pointer. At one point he’s at a slow creep as the song builds energy, then it’s off to races. Roth momentarily chimes in to warn us, “This next part should really confuse things – everybody, let’s stay focused!” Eddie then rips into a finger-tapping solo that conjures up the brilliance of Eruption, right before he cuts into a bluesy breakdown where Roth’s banter can take center-stage again. It’s a magical give-and-take between the most celebrated rock duo of all time (Eddie and Dave, that is).
To me, this album means huge redemption for Eddie Van Halen. The now 57 years young rock icon has endured everything from a lifelong battle with alcoholism; to cancer treatment; to several highly publicized conflicts with lead singers (Roth included); and even a bum hip. This guy has been through Hell several times, and he’s still standing proudly, swinging for the fences with this monster display of genius guitar work. I hope it’s as satisfying to him as it is for me to listen to it all pour off of his fingers.
The boys have simply obliterated any possible expectation I had listening to Truth for the first time. It is a bona fide comeback effort that will sit comfortably within the Van Halen library forever; not as an eyesore, but as a sight for sore eyes. My only question now is whether or not this is their last album? Let’s hope not.