Van Halen

A Different Kind Of Truth

by Laru S.

In 5 Words or Less

ShrEddie Van Halen returns

Value

Paid $11.99 (CD), Worth $7.99

Affiliation with KNEW GEN

None

Explicit?

No

Genre and Mood

Guitar-driven hard rock

Notable Tracks

Blood and Fire, The Trouble With Never, China Town, Big River, Outta Space and She's the Woman

Songwriting & Musicianship

A great deal of the songs on this album are re-works of old demos that never made it onto albums released in the late 70's and early 80's. As a result, the songs have a decidedly early Van Halen edge, but, at times, suffer from being borderline album-filler material. The lead single, "Tattoo", is a bit too pop-driven. It sounds more like something that could have been on David Lee Roth's solo album "Skyscraper" than classic Van Halen. That said, it has a catchy chorus, and a ripping guitar solo. It grows on you. Not the best choice for a lead single, in my opinion. It is not representative of what to expect the rest of the album to sound like. Because the rest of the album is more guitar-driven hard rock, bordering on heavy metal at times. I see two other songs as potential follow-up singles, "Blood and Fire" and "The Trouble With Never". The former is by far the most complete song on the album. It has a good melody, tasty
riff, catchy lyrics, and a great guitar solo. Very reminiscent of "Little Guitars" from 1982's "Diver Down" album. The latter song has a very cool opening riff, almost R&Bish, sounds like a metalized version of a Stevie Wonder riff. "Stay Frosty" follows the formula of the classic "Ice Cream Man", opening as an acoustic number for two verses and then kicking into high gear electric riffage. "Outta Space" and "China Town" are both guitar lovers' wet dreams. The album drags a bit in the middle with lesser quality tunes like "Bullethead" and "As Is", followed by the only song I was truly disappointed in, "Honeybabysweetiedoll". It had a strange studio-created intro which lasted nearly 30 seconds, and Roth's vocals are completely drowned out throughout the entire song. The "rushed" vocal delivery on the tune didn't work well either, though the style made sense considering they jammed 4 words together into one in the title. However, the riff and soloing is great, and I think they should have made that tune an instrumental, it could have been phenomenal, and certainly unexpected. Eddie Van Halen is mega shredding throughout the whole album, a lot of good riffs and sweet solos. His son, Wolfgang, is a much better bassist than I could have imagined. I'd dare say better than Michael Anthony in spots, but then Mikey always got screwed in the mix. Wolfie gets a little more space in the mix from dad. He keeps the groove going, while branching out with juicy low-end parts too, much closer to Billy Sheehan then say, Nikki Sixx. David Lee Roth doesn't have the same range or ability to belt out a song as he once did, but I was pleasantly satisfied with his vocal performance, when he could be heard. His lyrics were spotty, some hit the mark, others fell flat. Alex Van Halen, in my opinion rock's most overrated drummer, didn't do anything particularly outstanding or terrible, just average at best. The songs blatantly missed Michael Anthony's harmonizing, but Wolfie, Dave, and Eddie weren't terrible.

Production

Being the band was attempting to return to their roots, one would have thought that Ted Templeman would have returned to produce this album, as he had done every Roth-era Van Halen album prior to this one. Instead, the band opted to self-produce and mix the album, with the help of John Shanks (production) and Ross Hogarth (mixing). The guitar is front and center at all times. The bass guitar is more prominent in the mix than any previous Van Halen release, a refreshing change for the better. There are spots where Dave's vocals are too low in the mix ("As Is", "Beats Workin'", "Honeybabysweetiedoll" in particular), and there are some muddy spots, especially in Dave's little spoken word parts (example: "The Trouble With Never"). The high-end is somewhat over-modulated, with Alex's cymbals really crashing too high at times (see "She's the Woman"). Perhaps my biggest criticism of the production is that this band built it's image on being a party rock band with songs that were great to listen to while driving. For that reason, my initial listening of this album was in my car, and I wasn't pleased. When I listened with headphones, it all started to come together. Which is fine for bands such as Queensryche, or Dream Theater, but not Van Halen. You want to blast it as you speed down the highway, and it just doesn't sound as good for that as the old Van Halen albums did.

What Else You Should Know

Other than "Tattoo", the record lacks truly radio-friendly type songs. But in this day and age, with radio a dying format, I think that's a good thing.
Definitely the right approach to go with killer guitar-driven songs
throughout, as the old fan base has been clamoring for that. Anyone
reading this who hasn't listened yet, I highly recommend listening with headphones the first few times. The album is bereft of keyboards, with the exception of a "low in the mix" synth part in "Tattoo". I would have liked to hear at least one keyboard-driven song, just to see how it would sound, but maybe that's something I can look forward to if they keep their shit together and make another album. Overall I was surprised at just how good this album is, and look forward to hearing several of the songs live on Van Halen's upcoming tour.

Contact Laru S. at larus@knewgeneration.com