Van Halen - A Different Kind of Truth (Interscope)

Diamond Dave is back - again - but hopefully this time it's for keeps!
Release Date: 
2 Feb 2012 - 11:30pm

“Don’t jump to conclusions”. That’s what my English master Mr DJ ‘Daddy’ Wedd used to say to us in reverent tones whenever we waded in with opinions on the plot of some book or other he’d told us to read. We inevitably came up with hypotheses wildly wide of the mark precisely because we had indeed, jumped to conclusions. It’s an awful personality defect to possess.

All of which leads me to Van Halen’s A Different Kind of Truth. Like many millions of others across the interwebs, I saw the video for the first single to be released from this album, Tattoo, and chimed in with my own pithy observations about how the whole VH reunion appeared to be dead in the water even before it had properly started. How wrong can a man be? Of course there are still reservations; I will still be very surprised if this unit holds it together long enough to complete an American tour, but for the moment that’s just a potential pifall for the future. For the minute all we have is the music, and, it’s a delight to be able to report, that A Different Kind of Truth is Van Halen’s best album in a very, very long time.

Tattoo, it turns out, is a bit of a grower, and you’ll welcome it as it ushers in the album as a bit of an old friend. But it’s far from the best track here, as one by one the likes of  Shes’s the Woman, You and Your Blues and, perhaps best of all, the utterly titanic, classic VH of Blood and Fire prove just what, against all the odds, a great band Van Halen continues to be in the twenty first century. With David Lee Roth at the helm again vocally the band is a very different beast to the slick, radio friendly version fronted by Sammy Hagar in the late eighties and early nineties. Hagar is a consummate professional, a great singer and a great guitarist and songwriter to boot, and his contribution to Van Halen tended to overshadow even Edward Van Halen, who seemed to retreat into a synth-obsessed world of doing just enough to get by whilst Hagar carried the show. Roth is nowhere near the musician Hagar is, though he’s ten times the showman. Consequently Edward Van Halen has had to up his game considerably to cover all the gaps left by Sammy, and it’s this performance that really frames A Different Kind of Truth. Put simply, he hasn't sounded this good since 1980's Women and Children First, churning out a series of stinging riffs and gobsmacking solos that are an absolute and genuine pleasure to hear. Backing this up is a marvellous performance from percussive brother Alex who also hasn’t sounded this good in years. He hasn’t had to of course – FM radio doesn’t really have a place for double-kick mayhem- but when he fires up the bass pedals behind a classic Edward arpeggio/clawhammer solo on the highly mobile As Is you’ll happily feel like its 1984 all over again.

And what about DLR? Undoubtedly this is the best he’s sounded too since his late eighties solo peak saw him happily ruling the airwaves with the likes of Just Like Paradise. He sounds relaxed and on form throughout, throwing in little laconic ad libs all over the place and contributing a fine set of humorous lyrics far beyond the by-numbers pop nonsense often offered up by Hagar. This is at its most glorious on the bluesy Stay Frosty, which itself harks back to Ice Cream Man from the band's storied eponymous debut album.

I should probably say at this point that I am a massive fan of VH fronted by Hagar and with bass and backing vocals provided by the faintly ridiculous Michael Anthony (Anthony here is replaced by Edward's son Wolfgang, who is similarly rotund but isn't the possessor of anywhere near as silly a face as Anthony) , but when this album clicks you realize there’s absolutely no need for any other lineup of this band to exist anymore. Welcome back, and please hold it together!