Is It The Shit? We Review The New Van Halen Album!

There was a time when the idea of a new Van Halen studio album - one featuring original singer David Lee Roth, no less - would have set the rock world on its ear, but such a time came and went all too briefly some sixteen years ago when the original Van Halen line-up reunited onstage at the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards.

While the band had recorded two new songs with Roth prior to the MTV appearance, that being seen publicly with Roth should be construed as a "reunion" seemed to come as unwanted news to Eddie Van Halen, who took hilariously misguided umbrage at Roth's enthusiasm for being a part of the VH camp once again and quickly saw to it that the two new songs the band had cut with Roth would be the last.

And, quicker than you can say "freaky deaky", David Lee Roth and the Van Halen camp were once-again lobbing vitriolic volleys at one another. As if to further thumb his nose at the idea of righting the good ship Van Halen, Eddie recruited ex-Extreme singer Gary Cherone, co-wrote songs with Mike Post (of "Hill Street Blues" theme song fame, among others), and released Van Halen 3, an album which, if left on your doorstep, would piss you off more than a flaming bag of poo.

It would be easy to focus attention on Eddie's drinking and rumored drug use, the photos of him with missing teeth that appeared in industry magazines some years back, his divorce from Valerie Bertinelli, or his decision to sack original bassist Michael Anthony, but, for the sake of this review, we'll focus solely on the music because, at the end of the day, that's the only thing that really matters, does it not?

As I prepare to hit "play" on the first song on their new album, A Different Kind Of Truth, I can tell you that I feel a certain adrenal thrill that I haven't felt since I was a kid. Yet, I have no high hopes, no belief that a bunch of 50+ year-old men can return to their youthful greatness, no delusions of grandeur. All I can do is close my eyes and...

Fuck, dude, I ain't afraid to say that by the time the intro subsided and David Lee began singing, I was literally on the verge of tears. That fucking swagger, that cocksure bravado that made Van Halen I such a molotov cocktail - it's all there, but this is a band that's also comfortable in its current skin and not trying to jam a 50-year-old ass into leather pants fit for a man half that age.

Having seen some of the smarmy stage antics Roth pulled on the last VH tour, I was not have been willing to bet that Van Halen could put their differences behind them, much less age so gracefully on-record, but damn if "Tattoo" doesn't set a beautifully sturdy foundation for the band, and the rest of this album, to flourish.

What's most impressive is that the band seems united in its vision, free of petty tensions and ego trips. Plus, just to hear Eddie Van Halen tearing it up on guitar, and not insisting his keyboard skills upon us, is a supreme joy.

I'm almost tempted to quit while I'm ahead, stop the album while the band's on top, but against my own better judgment, I press onward.

"She's The Woman" is a riff-laden rocker that would not have sounded out of place on Women & Children First and features some of the finest EVH guitar work since, well Women & Children First. Damn, this is a tune begging to be cranked up at a stop light in a perenially primer-color Z-28, if ever there was one.

"You And Your Blues" follows ad is the first snog that makes me think this could be the album that makes us all forget about the Van Hagar years, not to mention the more synthy numbers on 1984.

That's right, when you file your Van Halen albums in chronological order, you're gonna be tempted to file this bad boy right after Fair Warning and, the truth of the matter is that most of us would be hard-pressed to disagree with you. Never mind the thirty odd years between those albums, this is the sound of a band firing on all cylinders and picking up right where "the real Van Halen" left off.

Those looking for a new "Hot For Teacher" need only check out "China Town", which is the very definition of "riff heavy" and puts Eddie's playing back in "holy shit, how'd he do that?!" territory.

"Blood And Fire" reaches down between the album's legs, eases the seat back, and shifts into a lower, but no less exciting gear. It's a brave song for a band that's been gone this long to even attempt because it marches totally to its own drum. With most legacy bands, whether they're returning from a lengthy period of inactivity, reuniting the original line-up, or simply making an ambitious "return to form" after a couple sub-par albums, by now, the enthusiasm at the beginning of the album has worn off and we start to see a band trying to keep pace with the current hit-makers of the day and, in doing so, we witness a band that is delivering a sound that is decidedly unlike that which made them famous.

If Van Halen were to fall victim to just such a sand traps, who could blame them? At least they gave it a try, right? Thankfully, Van Halen avoid the obvious pitfalls and, against all odds, they've given us an album where each new song is an entirely different bull in an entirely more expensive china shop.

"Bullethead" is the sort of tune that would have sounded great coming over the record store speakers, making every kid rummaging the bins stop and nod with silent approval. "As Is" begins with a Dee Dee Ramone-inspired count-in and a sludgily de-tuned guitar riff atop a bitch of a mid-tempo groove. Then the band kicks into a double-time tempo whilst Roth and EVH riff off of one another with a jazz-infused precision that belies the song's Marshall-driven intensity.

"Honeybabysweetiedoll" and "The Trouble With Never" offer up the sort of one-two punch that sounds just as influential to up and coming rockers as "Running With The Devil" did in the '70s, which is a testament to the band's musical prowess in a musical age where everything a band can do these days with a guitar, bass and drums has been done, and better. I can literally see the jaws of guitar players thew world over drop as each new songs begins. "Fuck, how did he do that?!"

To make it worse, a song like "Outta Space" takes simple, recognizable ingredients and deconstructs them into a cockeyed musical Frankenstein that still manages to confound and delight. Meanwhile, Roth's vocals, sung in a lower register than previous Van Halen efforts, exude a refined confidence that recalls Leonard Cohen. When Roth reaches for the high notes, the effect is masterfully engaging.

"Stay Frosty" initially seems like a bit of a departure, a la Diver Down's "Big Bad Bill Is Sweet William Now". A total Rothian showcase driven by Eddie's tasteful acoustic work. These fuckers are as bad-ass unplugged as when they're drowning out a 747. Then the amps come to life and jettison this song into the stratosphere. In a perfect world, this would be the first single, and a #1 single at that, with an atom bomb instead of a bullet!

"Big River", a great song, but one whose bass line makes me really wish Michael Anthony was "slappin' da bass", to quote Paul Rudd.

"Beats Workin'" is a summer car-jam radio song just waiting for the snow to melt and the bikinis to come out of hiding, ending the album with a bodacious, celebratory roar. Goddamn it if Van Halen didn't fucking pull off the comeback of the century. Next time somebody tries to tell you that miracles never happen, just put a finger over their babbling pie hole and play them this album.

Here's the thing, do yourself a favor and pick up the2-disc version of this album because Disc 2 includes a video jam called "The Downtown Sessions", which features Van Halen in acoustic format. On paper, that might not sound like an essential addition to your VH collection, but remember what I said above about this band aging gracefully. In this setting, VH manages to breathe new life into "Panama" (including a priceless DLR re-interpretation of the infamous "reach down between my legs, ease the seat back" bridge. Roth, in fact, is so naturally at-ease in this setting that you may just walk away with a whole new appreciation for the guy, not to mention the entire band.

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