Getting David Lee Roth, one of the most flamboyant front men in rock history, and the equally headstrong Van Halen brothers back in the studio together could be considered a victory in itself.
Nearly 30 years have past since Roth and the Van Halens entered 5150 Studios to crank out the hugely popular album 1984, a platinum effort 10 times over.
After a few barbs, a false start or two and some squabbles, they are back together -- sans original bassist Michael Anthony sadly -- for a shot at rekindling the magic that gave fans one rock anthem after another in the late ‘70s and ‘80s.
If the new album, A Different Kind of Truth, sounds like it has some elements from the Van Halen sound of their heyday, then your ears aren't fooling you. The 13-song record, released Tuesday on Interscope Records, is built around a handful of demos leftover from from Roth's first run with the band.
While dusting off some rejects from past sessions can be seen as mailing it in to some, generally speaking, Van Halen didn't embarrass themselves after joining forces with producer John Shanks (Bon Jovi, Miley Cyrus, Melissa Etheridge). With 28 years between 1984 and A Different Kind of Truth, it was probably a good idea for Roth and company to not try to reinvent the wheel.
Van Halen, which hasn't released a studio album of any kind since the ill-fated Van Halen III in 1998 with Gary Cherone on vocals, took the tried and true approach to A Different Kind of Truth and as a result, Eddie Van Halen's fingerprints (or perhaps fingertaps?) are all over this album.
Let's face it. Eddie Van Halen has been through the ringer. After battles with the bottle, a bout with cancer that cost him part of his tongue and a hip replacement, Eddie put in a MVP performance on A Different Kind of Truth.
On "Blood and Fire," Eddie harkens back to 1981 and sprinkles some of Diver Down's "Little Guitars" through out the verses and bridge before laying down a smoking solo to show kids the 57-year-old still swings a big axe. Roth pulls it all together with one of his best performances of the album, not to mention a 'Hello, remember me?' with the following lyric: "Told you I was coming back / Say you missed me / Say it like you mean it." This should have been the album's first single.
Instead, Interscope Records handed radio stations, "Tattoo," a syrupy and rather pedestrian first single -- also the album's first song -- when compared to the other tracks. Though his range isn't the best and he is often left to battle Eddie's guitars in the mix, Roth is still able to deliver the swagger he's always been known for.
In stark contrast to "Tattoo," we get a taut, Red Bull-infused jam "Bullethead" where Eddie and brother/drummer Alex Van Halen kick up the tempo and other double-time quasi-metal numbers like "China Town" and "As Is," perhaps a second cousin to 1984's "Hot For Teacher."
While the boys show they can still deliver some steam, there are other songs more worthy of hanging their hats on. "Stay Frosty" is a dead ringer for "Ice Cream Man" off Van Halen's debut in 1978 and though a little corny lyrically, more than makes up for it with a scorching finish. The final track, "Beats Workin," will sound familiar to Van Halen and Kiss diehards. Starting off with an ominous and simple chord progression, its roots come from a 1976 Gene Simmons-produced demo titled "Put out the Lights."
If A Different Kind of Truth comes up short in an area, it would undoubtedly be the lack of vocal harmonies that were made famous with Anthony's range. Anthony, who perhaps was seen as being too tight with displaced lead singer Sammy Hagar, has been pushed aside for Wolfgang Van Halen, Eddie's 20-year-old son. Without Anthony, there aren't any "Dance the Night Away" moments on this album.
Melodies present during the "Van Hagar" era are largely absent here as well. Eddie Van Halen definitely wasn't shackled on guitar and perhaps pulling back on the reins could have delivered some tighter songs.
It remains to be seen how long this combustible mixture of Roth and the Van Halen brothers, along with the kid Wolfie, lasts. The ensuing North American tour -- Van Halen visits Scottrade Center on April 29 -- should provide the litmus test if these egos can indeed co-exist for another run and follow-up to this new offering.
For now, the fact that there is "new," solid studio material from three-fourths of the original lineup will be enough to whet the appetite of Van Halen fans that have been thirsting for too long.
Van Halen - A Different Kind of Truth track listing
02. She's the Woman
03. You and Your Blues
04. China Town
05. Blood and Fire
07. As Is
09. The Trouble with Never
10. Outta Space
11. Stay Frosty
12. Big River
13. Beats Workin'
A Deluxe Edition includes a DVD titled The Downtown Sessions, which feature acoustic performances of "Panama," "You and Your Blues" and "Beautiful Girls."