New Van Halen Album By Kevin Zimmerman and Chris Pummer

TopicsAll ForumsVan HalenA Different Kind Of TruthNew Van Halen Album By Kevin Zimmerman and Chris Pummer

This topic has 2 voices, contains 1 reply, and was last updated by  VAiN 4062 days ago.

February 14, 2012 at 8:25 am Quote #4609


New Van Halen Album
By Kevin Zimmerman and Chris Pummer

KEVIN ZIMMERMAN: I’m hardly the world’s biggest Van Halen fan, but the new album, A Different Kind of Truth, is surprisingly decent — a lot better than I (or I’m guessing most people would have believed.

CHRIS PUMMER: I took a rip at them two weeks ago after hearing “Tattoo,” the first single from the new CD, but then after listening to the whole album last week took it back. It definitely exceeded expectations, not just for this band, but also what we’ve come to expect from reformed acts.

It has some of Eddie Van Halen’s most aggressive guitar work in either two or three decades. David Lee Roth might be over-the-top, but at his worst is not embarrassing the way Sammy Hagar was with his demand that his silliness be taken seriously. It’s probably not going to win the band any new fans, or at least any who wouldn’t have been drawn in just the same from the past catalog. But I think it was the album hardcore Van Halen fans wanted.

That’s where I think the album really stands as a success. It seems to me the most common criticism is that the album doesn’t have big pop hooks, that the aim is somehow lower than when the band was in its prime. And I guess the question I’d have for that is, so what? What new level of popular acclaim is there for Van Halen to achieve?

Commercially, Van Halen is pretty much tapped out. If you listen to rock music, you’ve already heard Van Halen and decided if you like it or not. That said, the band has been so influential and has such a large fan base, it’s not necessary to strive for relevance. They’ll be relevant as long as they want to keep playing or making records.

Once bands reach that level, they usually get by with releasing a steady stream of “meh” (Pearl Jam), rarely or never releasing anything (the Pixies, the Rolling Stones), or maybe just put out something that’s just plain regrettable (the Eagles, Guns ‘n’ Roses, and maybe the Stones here, too).

So obviously, if you take away that context, Van Halen isn’t adding anything new to the rock canon. And I suppose you could argue they haven’t even dislodged any of their previous albums with Roth. (I’m debating if it’s going to far to say this album is better than anything they did with either Hagar or the guy from Extreme). –ED: What am I thinking, of course this is better than anything they did with Hagar? –CP

At the same time, I’ve long maintained that if the material is good or bad, hardcore fans of these legacy acts really latch on to whatever new music their favorite band manages to release. If it’s great and fans love it, that’s terrific. If it’s awful and even the fans hate it, that’s fine, too. Even that’s a reminder of how great the old stuff was.

So whether it was necessary or not, Van Halen delivered some pretty solid material for its fans.

KEVIN ZIMMERMAN: A Different Kind of Truth is a very pleasant surprise. Not being the world’s biggest VH fan to start with, I can’t say that the news that the band was FINALLY bringing Roth back into the fold — after umpteen rumors that they’d be doing so — necessarily set my heart to going pitter-pat, but I was curious to hear what the thing sounded like.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 28 years since these guys recorded together. Giving Roth the boot after 1984 was definitely the right move; the living cartoon that he’d become had run well past its expiration date, as the diminishing returns of his solo stuff definitively proved. That they elected to replace him with Hagar the Horrible was hardly an improvement however; Sam may not have been able to drive 55, but he always drove me up a wall.

There’s also the fact that during the Van Hagar phase, the band became AOR to a fault, churning out increasingly faceless albums whose only distinguishable features were their would-be “hilarious” titles (OU812 and the acronym derived from For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge — hurr hurr). And then of course there was the redoubtable Van Halen III with the immortal Gary Cherone, which was enough of a stake through the heart to keep the band out of the studio for another 14 years.

Truth finds Roth in understandably weaker voice, though Eddie can indeed still shred — something that was an open question given his “meth-head living under the bridge” physical appearance during the fallow age. Brother Alex still anchors things mightily, and the inevitable Wolfgang has replaced Michael Anthony on bass, one would guess permanently. ( The Van Halen boys take a long time to get over a grudge, after all, and Chickenfoot isn’t something that should be lightly forgiven.)

As for the tunes themselves, the group is mostly back in its finest pop metal mode: “Tattoo,” the lead single that’s been inexplicably dismissed by most critics, is a decent enough opener, dragging in some Cheap-Trick-in-their-heavier-mood touches, while the rambunctious “Blood and Fire” shows they’ve been listening to Foo Fighters and the manic “Bullethead” recalls Greg Ginn at his mid-80s finest.

But there are plenty of pure VH moments here as well. “She’s the Woman” has that mine-is-bigger-than-yours swagger that the band patented from the start, a guaranteed stadium crowd-pleaser, while “Honeybabysweetiedoll” has a funky start-stop rhythm that continues to shift and trickily evolve over its four-minute running time. That a lot of these songs apparently date back as far as the 1970s helps bridge that otherwise monstrous gap between 1984 and now.

As always, there are some duff spots here. “Outta Space” could be a Ted Nugent castoff from the early ’80s, and, as indicated by its title, “Stay Frosty” sounds like an attempt at rewriting John Brim’s “Ice Cream Man” to absolutely no effect whatsoever. In fact, the album pretty much runs out of gas in its second half, culminating in the closing “Beats Workin’,” whose title is an okay-enough ribs-nudge about the band’s long absence but whose execution is about as generic as pop-metal comes.

I agree that this isn’t an album designed to attract new followers; such is your fate when you’ve been out of the public eye for so long. But fans who’d given up hope should welcome most of Truth, which is definitely enough to pique interest in the next album — provided they don’t have another decades-long spat with Roth, of course.

CHRIS PUMMER: Interesting. We reach a lot of the same conclusions, but from different directions.

I actually would have liked it if the track list had been reversed. The album makes more sense to me that way. But then again, I’m into Van Halen because of the guitar playing, and from that middle third of the album onward, the songs really emphasize that.

I think that song “Tattoo” is awful, like the third-best song some David Lee Roth solo album. I don’t get why they released that song first when there were literally a dozen better choices among the 13 songs on the album.

Wolfgang Van Halen is a better bass player than Michael Anthony, who even among Van Halen fans is most credited for his backup vocals instead his instrumental prowess. Wolfgang Van Halen’s prowess I think was really first driven home for me the first time listening to “That’s The Trouble With Never.” This is the best bass work on any Van Halen album.

There’s very little contemporary influence on this album. In fact, most of the material was culled from the band’s recorded archives and other places. “Blood and Fire” was actually lifted from a soundtrack Eddie Van Halen scored in the mid-80s. (Van Halen stole a keyboard riff from the same soundtrack to re-purpose into the song “Right Now” from the Hagar era.)

KEVIN ZIMMERMAN: I take the point about liking the group primarily for the guitar sound; Roth’s lyrics are rarely what draw me in, unless they’re sonically the focal point, as on that “Stay Frosty” number. I’m also not going to argue Mr. Anthony’s abilities on the bass. The fact that he’s ended up with Hagar speaks for itself.

Still don’t mind “Tattoo,” but I do seem to be in the minority there. It strikes me as the kind of Dumb Rock Song that can work if it’s done tongue-in-cheek enough. The verses drag a bit, but I like that goofy chorus.

I understand that a lot of this material is old — which doesn’t precisely augur well for co-writing down the road — but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve copied down the same arrangements or (one would hope) production strategies. It’s for that reason that I was invoking the Foos, Ginn, etc…though of course those guys have been influenced by VH as well. Kind of a chicken/egg situation?

CHRIS PUMMER: The song is annoyingly catchy. And Roth’s tongue-in-cheek quality is what makes him more playful and endearing than Hagar.

One of the only let-downs with this album was that the DVD extras that came with the deluxe version only included a handful of unplugged cuts of the band playing the “Downtown Sessions.” With the wealth of promotional material being released behind the album, including an unplugged version of “You’ve Really Got Me,” plus web videos or Roth telling stories, I would have liked to have seen more of that stuff on the DVD. It’s out there on the internet for free anyway, so rolling it into the deluxe package would have nice.

Production-wise, Van Halen’s sound hasn’t really changed since their For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge album. I don’t know if that’s just Eddie Van Halen settling in, consciously or not. Musically it marks the end his experimental keyboard phase, and gear-wise it marks the beginning of when he started recording more with some of the custom-built guitars being produced under his name from various manufacturers. So maybe that’s just the sound he wants, and what he’s happy with.

A lot’s been made of how a lot of this stuff has been dredged up from older material. It doesn’t really mark a departure from how the band has operated. Every single Roth album from 30 years ago contained at least one song reworked from the band’s original demo sessions for Warner Bros. in 1977. And Van Halen kept reworking stuff throughout the Hagar era, as well. That just seems to be Eddie Van Halen’s preferred method of working — make a bunch of clay, re-work it, re-shape it, walk away when you’re satisfied with it.

Maybe the well runs dry at some point. It does for just about every band or musician. And again, I think that’s how we get back to exceeded expectations. This was a pretty solid album, and not a lot of bands at this stage have that in them — either creatively or sitting in some recording vault.

February 15, 2012 at 9:11 pm Quote #4787


Not a bad review… feels pretty fair to me. Nice to hear what a not-super-fan thinks of the album. Thanks for posting that..

Resident dickhead. I will hurt your delicate feelings.


You must be logged in to reply to this topic.