Tuesday, February 7, 2012
A Different Kind of Truth
"We now return to our regularly-scheduled program. If Van Halen ever puts out a new album, I'll review it. Please don't hold your breath..."
-- Brian, July 18 2011
I never thought I'd be writing this post. After going off-topic for a review of the long-awaited Blink-182 album, I promised another music review only if the oft-feuding monsters of rock that had been my favorite band since 1988 put out some new material. With nary a peep since their 2007 tour with David Lee Roth on vocals and Eddie Van Halen's son, Wolfgang, filling in for the venerable Michael Anthony on bass, I postulated that the DLR had been de facto kicked out of the band again and that we'd seen the last of them.
I don't need to recount the whole sordid history of Van Halen and its rotating lead singers, but let's back up just a little.
Of course, everyone knew "Jump", "Panama", "Hot for Teacher", and other Van Halen hits, but I would say that I really became a Van Halen fan back in 1988, when my friend Brian played OU812 while we were playing Nintendo in my (parents') basement. From ominous opening strains of "Mine All Mine", a rather obscure song that remains my favorite Van Halen tune, I was hooked.
In 1991, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge was released. "Right Now" is the super hit off that record, but "Judgement Day" and "The Dream is Over" are excellent too. Balance, released in 1994, when I was high-school senior, was playing almost every day as I drove to school. I loved the older stuff, with David Lee Roth on lead vocals, but Eddie (Van Halen), Alex (Van Halen), Sammy (Hagar), and Mike (Anthony) was the lineup I first really got to know. I give you all that background just to explain that while somr Van Halen purists will insist that Van Halen with Roth is the only Van Halen, I don't have the strong antipathy toward one of them that I think most participants in a "Sammy or Dave" debate probably have. Instead, I just lament what might have been had the Van Halen brothers been able to get along with one of the two lead singers.
The Van Halen brothers kicked Sammy out of the band in 1996 to briefly re-unite with Dave, after recording some new songs with him for their "best of" album, only to almost immediately kick Dave right back out of the band. I saw them on tour in 1998 with Gary Cherone, but let's pretend I didn't, and was lucky enough to catch them in '04 when they re-united with Sammy, who they subsequently kicked out of the band for a second time. In '07, they improbably reunited with Dave, and put on a great show (during which they played not a single "Hagar" song), but after years of silence I didn't think we'd ever see another Van Halen album.
Then a few weeks ago...out of nowhere, Van Halen is touring with Dave again. (I know it's not really out of nowhere, just that I missed it.) I skeptically suggested that they must be trying to make a quick buck one last time (which may still be true), and then wham! learn there's an album on the way, entitled A Different Kind of Truth, which I downloaded today.
Ok, Brian. You like Van Halen. You never thought they'd put album out. Great. Terrific. What's it sound like?
I like it. There's no "Jump" on here. No "Running with the Devil", "Panama", or "Unchained". I'm not sure there's any "greatest hits" on this, but it sounds like a David Lee Roth-era Van Halen album...which it should, since many of the songs are based on demos written in the '70s. It's really loud, mostly fast, features excellent guitar solos, and is definitely fun. If you're looking for lyrical genius, look elsewhere. With no disrespect meant to Wolfgang Van Halen, Michael Anthony's backing vocals are missed. I think most of the songs have a similar sound, which in my opinion makes "Blood and Fire", my favorite song on the album, stand out. I think "The Trouble With Never" has the best chance of being a hit, which probably dooms it to an existence without radio airplay. "Stay Frosty" is my least favorite song on the album, but it's not as bad as I feared when I heard the preview on the band's facebook page. It does get loud, the preview just didn't last long enough.
If you like DLR-era Van Halen, I think you'll like it. And I might have to re-appropriate "Blood and Fire" (which sounds like it's really Dave talking about his return to the band and their comeback) as the anthem of my return to the roads. I'm still skeptical that the Van Halen reunion is a long-term one, and maybe that's for the best, but this is fun. I just hope that they don't kick Dave out of the band again until after March 6, when I've got a ticket to see them in Philadelphia.
You can preview the songs on the album on iTunes or the band's facebook, or espn.com, for reasons I can't determine, has six full songs, including all of the ones I've mentioned.
Hopefully, as my break from running draws to a close, you enjoyed this little departure from boring race recaps and complaining. We'll now return to our regular subject matter. If the original lineup of Guns 'n' Roses ever gets back together, then I'll write another music review.
Your move, Axl.