Christmas and the 4th of July
By Rob Kern
Van Halen fans normally fall into two groups, the David Lee Roth supporters and those that back Sammy Hagar. I’ve always been firmly entrenched in the David Lee Roth camp. DLR is that perfect mix of crazy uncle, carnival ringleader and 15-year-old goofball, constantly sporting a “What, me worry?” grin. With Roth at the helm Van Halen comes across as gritty and hungry with a barely contained mean streak. Eddie Van Halen’s guitar work has a snarl that rarely reared its head during the Sammy Hagar era. Top this bad attitude off with the shrieks and grinning chutzpa of Roth and you had the formula for canned summertime. Slap on a Roth fronted Van Halen disc and it feels like the temperature just increased by ten degrees. Van Halen with Roth was a larger-than-life machine, the ultimate party band. When Sammy Hagar took over, they became just another rock band. Roth himself summed it up best, “Sammy throws a party, I am the party.”
This week saw the release of what most thought would never happen, a new Van Halen disc with David Lee Roth, titled “A Different Kind of Truth.” The past fifteen years had been a rocky run for Van Halen. An acrimonious split with Hagar resulted in the band hiring former Extreme vocalist Gary Cherone for the ill-fated Van Halen III, followed by a reunion with Hagar that again dissolved after a rocky tour marred with reports of sub-standard shows and heavy drinking. In 2007, the band announced that Roth had returned to the fold and they were mounting a tour of North America. There were a few hiccups along the way, a run of shows cancelled due to a rumored rehab visit for Eddie and grumbles from some of the fans over original bassist Michael Anthony being replaced by Eddie’s son Wolfgang. Overall, the tour met with favorable reviews and became Van Halen’s highest grossing tour to date.
After the tour wrapped, things quieted down in the Van Halen camp with speculation that the reunited band were entering the studio to record a new album. From 2008 to mid-2011 the band remained mum on any news of progress or if there even was going to be a forthcoming studio release. Rumors flew fast and furious from insiders that claimed to have heard new music, yet still nothing from the band that confirmed or denied the existence of new recordings. In late 2011, the band suddenly broke media silence and announced a new record deal with Interscope records and announced a release date for their new studio album. An advance single “Tattoo” was released to radio in January to mixed reviews. So, is “Tattoo” indicative of the entire album or just a poor choice for a lead off single?
Breathe easy, Van Halen fans, as “Tattoo” is simply a case of picking the most middle of the road, radio-safe track on A Different Kind Of Truth. The rest of the album is a nod to classic-era Van Halen. The argument could be made that some of this material is literally classic VH as some of the tracks are actually stuff that they’ve had sitting in their vaults for decades. “She’s The Woman” originates from their 1976 Gene Simmons-produced demo tapes. That being said, none of the tracks have ever appeared on previous releases and all have been reworked and newly recorded. This is nothing new; “House Of Pain” from 1984 was also a demo from the vaults. If Van Halen has this strong of material buried away, then by all means, keep digging. Tracks such as “China Town” and “Honeybabysweetiedoll” fly along at a neck-snapping pace seeing Eddie shred in way he hasn’t since, well, the last time David Lee Roth was in the band.
Roth himself is in fine form on this album, he may be singing in a lower register than he did in the 70’s but it suits the material and he still cuts forth with some high notes when the songs call for it. Dave has had a career consisting of more downs than ups since exiting Van Halen but he still has shown flashes of brilliance from time to time. If you are able to hunt down a copy of the rare David Lee Roth’s No Holds BBQ VHS (that was sold on his 2002 tour) you’ll be in for an audio-visual ADD treat. The commentary track from Roth is a bonanza of pure gold that shows that he hasn’t grown up, and shame on those of us that have. Sure, at times the songs hit a little too close to old material, I hear strains of “Outta Love Again” from Van Halen II and a couple large nods to “Hot For Teacher” on a couple tracks. Maybe “Stay Frosty” does follow the “Ice Cream Man” formula but you will be too busy flashing your best Diamond Dave grin at the police officer that pulled you over for speeding around town while cranking A Different Kind Of Truth. I’m giving this one a solid B+. Class dismissed!
Rob Kern is a contributing writer for Classic Rock Magazine, video director and co-host of the From Out Of Nowhere Podcast at www.fromoutofnowhere.com