If people still go to record stores, they might not want to look at Van Halen’s new album, A Different Kind of Truth, the wrong way while it’s sitting on the shelf; it might throttle them.
Van Halen’s first new album with singer David Lee Roth in over twenty-eight years doesn’t disappoint. In fact, if you don’t like A Different Kind of Truth, you probably don’t like Van Halen. The thirteen-song set mixes newly written songs and re-works of old demos; but everything sounds fresh. The reason for the freshness is probably that the band hired a modern producer, John Shanks, who has worked with Celine Dion and Miley Cyrus. But don’t hold that against him; Truth sounds better than any other Van Halen album.
Another reason for the modern sound could be new bassist Wolfgang Van Halen, who is in fact the twenty-year-old son of Eddie Van Halen. Wolfgang seems to have brought a new energy to the band – and has also reinvigorated his father (the band hadn’t released a new album since 1998’s disjointed Van Halen III).
The record gets off to a shiny start with its first single, “Tattoo.” It’s catchy – which is what a radio song should be – but it actually does the album a disservice; what comes after is unabashed rawk music. Eddie seems to have embraced newer sounds, as is evident in the album’s second song, “She’s the Woman.” He uses a wah-pedal throughout the song to get an effect that he’s rarely used in the past.
“You and Your Blues” starts with a signature, palm-muting riff from Eddie, with brother/drummer Alex following in lock-step. It really is amazing to listen to two musicians who have been playing together since they were kids. The chorus features the back-up vocals of Wolfgang, which sound similar to the harmonies of departed bassist Michael Anthony. “China Town” is ferocious and begins with a two-handed tapping intro from Eddie; the other-worldly guitar effects make the song sound like it could be the soundtrack to a Mortal Kombat video game.
One track that sounds like it’s a specific tip-of-the-hat to classic Van Halen is “Stay Frosty,” which could pass as a 2012 version of Van Halen I’s “Ice Cream Man.” This tune starts off with Roth free-styling over an acoustic guitar, but it morphs into an electric groove that would make ZZ Top proud.
What’s best about A Different Kind of Truth is that the two biggest question marks in the band, Roth and Wolfgang, are spectacular. Is Roth washed up? Can Wolfgang handle playing bass in one of the world’s biggest rock bands with men three times his age? The answers are no, and absolutely. Roth can still write clever lyrics and weave catchy melodies around Eddie’s twisted guitar licks (check out the last minute of “As Is”). Wolfgang is a virtuoso just like his father, playing along with Eddie’s complicated pentatonic scales but also providing a thumping backbeat to the music.