In February this year Van Halen released their first new album in 14 years, titled A Different Kind of Truth. It signaled the return of David Lee Roth on vocals, a direct result of him having rejoined the band for a hugely successful concert tour a couple of years ago. This album is also the first one not to have Michael Anthony on bass; instead Wolfgang Van Halen – yes, Eddie’s son – is on duty.
I listened to the lead single Tattoo in February. What struck me about the single, which applies to many other songs on the album, was that every time the song seemed to settle into a catchy rhythm or riff, it would suddenly change direction and pace. Initially, I found this a bit irritating, because I so desperately wanted to find songs that were instantly catchy like Running with the Devil, A’int Talkin’ ‘bout Love and Dance the Night Away from their first 2 albums or Jump and I’ll Wait from the 1984 album. It almost felt like Van Halen purposely wanted to stay away from radio-friendly singles and instead wanted to create songs that required the listener to apply some effort. Or it could be that since some of these songs were written during Roth’s original stint with the band, they are the ‘left-over’ material that were not considered ‘hit-worthy’ enough to get into their earlier albums.
Any which way, the fact that many of the songs were written in the ’70s explains why the album has a more guitar-driven sound as compared to the strong keyboard sound which emerged on the 1984 album and stayed on through the subsequent albums 5150 and OU812 with Sammy Hagar. Those two Sammy Hagar albums gave rise to a number of crossover hit singles like Why Can’t This be Love, Dreams, Love Walks In, Finish What Ya Started and When it’s Love.
The first time I listened to the album, I felt that while the songs were heavier, they didn’t necessarily have the spark and inventiveness of Van Halen and Van Halen II.
But after my 4th or 5th listen, I was able to ‘navigate’ through the songs better and I started to enjoy more of the material. The songs I liked are Honeybabysweetiedoll, The Trouble with Never, Outta Space, Big River and Beats Workin’. But my favourite song on the album is Blood and Fire. Strangely, the vocal style on this song reminds me of Colin Hays vocals on Men at Work albums Business as Usual and Cargo.
David Lee Roth’s vocal style is much closer to his solo albums than his vocal delivery in the early Van Halen albums. I refer to it as his ‘Broadway musical/conversational’ style, rather than the fluid vocal delivery of most rock vocalists. And of course, the lyrics are typically DLR tongue-in-cheek as opposed to the more earnest love-centred lyrics of the Sammy Hagar albums. It’s nice to hear that DLR has retained most of his amazing vocal range. On many songs, he hits both the high notes and on one song he has a great spoken section where his low gravelly voice is on full display. For a very interesting demonstration of DLR’s vocal range, check out this mashup clip on Youtube.
So, after my initial disappointment, the album has definitely grown on me. I am now looking to dust off their earlier stuff and go through a chronological retrospective – yes including even the reviled Balance and Van Halen III.