Sunday, February 19, 2012

CD Review: Van Halen - A Different Kind of Truth

What better way to get this Bitchin' Camaro started than by sharing my review of the new Van Halen CD, A Different Kind of Truth...their first CD since 1998 and their first full CD with David Lee Roth since 1984!

Overall, I’m very surprised this CD is as good as it is.  I should say though that I had very low expectations, especially after hearing their first single, Tattoo.  It’s much heavier than I would have thought (in a good way) and Eddie is playing like he has something to prove.  He sounds great on the song riffs and rhythm.  However, his solos are his same old thing.  I’ll argue that if you’ve heard one EVH solo, you’ve heard them all as he repeats himself a lot.  Nothing new or ground breaking...maybe a few new effects that don’t add much, especially his intro to China Town that sounds like every 15 year old kid at Guitar Center.

DLR’s performance is only so-so for me.  We all know he’s never been a great singer, but I think he’s trying way too hard to show he can sing and to bring back his personality on the band. It works on some songs, but not on others. He breaks into his Barry White, low register voice in a few spots that does nothing but distract from what Eddie is playing.  Overall, he seems to just sing on top of what every Eddie is doing, instead of actually singing with the song. He's having fun though and that does come across.

Alex Van Halen gets a chance to shine on some of the faster, heavier songs, most notably China Town.  It’s good to hear he still has some life in those drums.

Wolfgang Van Halen...I’m not sure if they purposely turned down the bass in the mix, but he doesn’t get heard much on this CD. There's rumors that Eddie played the bass on the CD. Whoever played it, probably the only songs you can hear a strong bass is She’s The Woman and Beats Workin’. 

The biggest thing missing here is Michael Anthony.  This “new” version of Van Halen is NOT a reunion for the simple fact that Michael Anthony is not incredibly stupid decision on the part of Eddie and company. And on this new CD, it truly comes back to bite them in the ass.  His backing vocals would have added some depth to their sound and helped to reign in DLR from over extending on most of the songs.    

While this CD is better than I expected, there aren’t any instant VH classics here or any that I’m dying to hear them play live. Keep in mind that all of these songs are made by old riffs, most of which are really good on their own.  But, some of the overall songs just don’t work, which is probably why these songs were never completed.  If I had to give it a grade, I’ve probably got to give it a C+...average.  It's definitely worth checking out, but not much staying power.

Highlights:  She’s The Woman, Blood and Fire, Big River, Beats Workin’
Lowlights: TattooChina Town, Bullethead, Honeybabysweetiedoll, Stay Frosty (lame attempt to recreate Ice Cream Man)

Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts.  You can read more from me at my blog, Taking It Back at


  1. Honest review, but I disagree or at least don't share your slant on a few things. First things first, I think we share the same view on the overall album...(that wax thing with a hole in it that looks like a black CD)...While it's a good sounding album with some compelling material there is nothing on it that is the next "Unchained" or "Panama." It's better than "VHIII" but maybe not even as good (song-writing wise) than "5150" or "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge."

    That being said I think this album's heart is the return of DLR. GrantLand's Chuck Klosterman said it best that DLR gets a lifetime pass just for proving that people like him can exist in reality. He also said that he sounds like what the singer in Van Halen is supposed to sound like and I agree with that statement ten-fold.

    What I think is being given short-shrift is that DLR has kinda reinvented being DLR...gone are the days of the long-haired, hard-partying, cocaine-infused, wise-cracking misogynst. Replace that with somebody who survived all of the above, fell from grace professionally and is now capitalizing on a role he carved out for himself...and can effectively create lyrics that complement this new role (I mean how sad would it be for him to be singing about hard partying at this point?)...Look he's not Shakespeare, but he is soulful and I think he has not lost his way with words at all. The man can turn a phrase like no other. Some personal highlights:

    "Headless body in a topless bar..."

    "God is love, but get it in writing..."

    "Say you missed me...say it like you mean it..."

    "You can use my hand, I won't look...."

    As for Eddie...this is a slippery slope. I understand your point about him sounding like he "repeats" himself. My perspective is 1.) Eddie sounds like Eddie and 2.) one of the best musicians of our generation and a guitar-playing innovator recently had hand surgery and he STILL comes out playing solos like a fire-breathing dragon. I'm sorry, I know you're a guitar player, but if you can't find something to enjoy or appreciate within the solo for "Blood and Fire," than I don't know how to talk to you about guitar playing...for all it's "notes-per-minute" propensity, it's equal parts melodic, fluid and fierce.

    I will say that I wish he veered more back to his "brown sound" tone of simply had more bite than what is coming out of his Music Man guitars and his 5150 amps. The Franken-Kramer running through MXRs or Echoplex's coming out of Marshall Super Leads amps is as recognizable and signature a sound as Les Pauls through 4-12 Marshalls. That is one thing that changed in the Sammy "era"...Eddie's signature sound lost it's edge. Some people might say his sound evolved. I would not be one of those people.

    What bears some observance in all this is their viral campaign. I haven't seen on executed so well since Foo's released "Wasting Light." They are releasing something new everyday either on their fb page/website or DLR is providing stuff at VH Links website...unplugged versions of songs, DLR basically interviewing Eddie and Alex (which is all sorts of amazing on several different levels) or Dave providing his spoken word spirituality or behind-the-scenes song meanings in very listenable and entertaining snippets.

    The album is better than most "reunion"-ized acts (I'm looking at you Psycho Circus). It's a valiant effort and maybe this mature VH hasn't yet found their total current stride, but the whole is better than the some of it's parts and I think the majority of media, critics and fans would say that this launch is every bit the success they thought it wouldn't be.

  2. I agree with a lot of your points above. However (see how I didn't say "But"), I think the heart of the album is in the overall return of VH, not just DLR. This is their first new music in 14 years...and I'm not counting any of the new songs on Greatest Hits albums that came out in the meantime because they were just awful (Me Wise Magic came out before that time period). There was just as much interest and anticipation of what Eddie would sound like on this album after the drug issues and everything else.

    For DLR, I agree he's transformed himself from a lyrical standpoint and I think he's ok there. he brigns back his fun and attitude with the band, and I like that part too. What sounds bad is his over-singing and over-extending of his voice. It just sounds bad and his voice goes all over the place...bad singing is just bad singing. I don't care what band or reunion it is.

    For Eddie, I don't think any of his solos are bad or that he's not playing well or fast. I just don't think there's anything he hasn't done before. A few solos (or solo segments) have been done note for note in other songs. It still sounds good and he plays it well. I just think for all the praise he gets for being so innovative, he really hasn't done anything new since VH 1 came out. He taps. He does it better than anyone. It's just no longer "astonishing" as the Rolling Stone reporter mentioned.

    Interesting that you brought up the marketing of this album. I could have done a whole article on that. The marketing has been absolutely fantastic, with one flaw...the first single. All that you mention above is incredible and unexpected from VH. It's helped to cover up the downright bad impression Tattoo left on a lot of people. I've heard a lot of people say Tattoo was awful, so they weren't rushing to listen to any other songs. I've also heard a lot of people say they were waiting to make any judgements until they heard more songs (after hearing Tattoo).

    Finally, for this being a "reunion"-ized act, I'm actually of the opposite opinion that the parts are much better than the whole. There are a lot of parts I really like out of most of the songs, but most of the songs as whole (for me) fall a bit flat. But it works enough that the launch has been successful. Now, for their next CD (in 14 years?), do they have enough old riffs still to go back to or will Eddie have to write something new? And can he?