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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Van Halen's A Different Kind of Truth: A First Listen

Posted By on Thu, Feb 9, 2012 at 4:30 AM


Van Halen is about one thing: revenge. Eddie brought in

Sammy to get rid of Dave, flirted with Dave again to get rid of Sammy, brought

in Gary Cherone to clear out the building, trained his own son to replace his most

loyal member, and brought Dave back in for now. Don't be surprised if he cans

his own son yet. And there's even a theory that he picked an intentionally

terrible first single ("Tattoo") to humiliate Dave and the fans who dared beg for his

return. None of this is below him. But is a good album?


"Tattoo" is indeed very stupid. "Tat-too/Tat-too" is not a

hook, a slow, bluesy vamp isn't an opening track, and David Lee Roth sounds

bored trying to do Anthony Kiedis/Steven Tyler rap nonsense ("Swap meet Sally"

actually sounds like "swamp meat salad"). The second verse basso voiceover is

very stupid. But it's not unlistenable. And it's bad in ways that don't feel wrong; sleazy trash is fine for this band. Cherone's

funk-ballads were not.

"She's the Woman"

Cute sexist touch: A song called "She's the Woman" begins

with an intro riff akin to an alarm sounding. Woman patrol, shut it down, shut

it down! This one's a double-time, wah-wah boogie a la "Welcome to the Jungle"

featuring the standout Daveism "I want to be your knight in shining pickup

truck" and a typically scale-jumping solo. Exceeds expectations.

"You and Your Blues"

Another crawling vamp, name-checking stuff like "Midnight

Train to Georgia" and, LOL, "19th Nervous Breakdown" that has

absolutely nothing to do with them. Dave's voice is getting strange. His chorus bellow is like the mock-serious tone "Weird

Al" Yankovic affected on "Dare to Be Stupid." And is he screeching "Woman, suffer

for my color"? Still, the backup "ahhh-ahhhs" (good job Wolfgang!) are

sufficient hookcraft to justify this song's existence. Or do I mean witchcraft?

"China Town"

This intro's fucking rad, it sounds like a vintage Nintendo game's

intro screen until those laser-hot fingers pull away from the fretboard and

damn, Eddie again. I've never remembered Alex's drumming being so battering

ram-like before -- this is speed metal. Dave still sounds like he's just talking,

and I have no idea what he's talking about. Or why he's ominously welcoming me

to Chinatown. Opium? Eddie solos and outros like a drill bit.

"Blood and Fire"

The most songful thing here so far, though Dave really needs

double-tracking to stay in key, and his stuffed manner of wordplay is starting

to frustrate. It leaves no room for innuendo, or emotion, or even particularly

expressive stupidity. If this is of any use to Juggalos, they'll have to strain

to find out. If this wasn't so knotty I'd call it for a single. Pretty things

blurring by, though, solo reminiscent of "Unchained." Mmmm, "Unchained."


Wow, the second speed-metal one is also the second one to

reference protest-era Dylan. Wolfie's really earning his bass lumber here -- it's

amazing how out of the way he stays. Maybe it's fear.

"As Is"

More metal. Is it weird that I never remembered them being

so metal? Were they ever? Are they trying to prove something? Were they sick of

hyperromantic Sammy? For sure he never got to ad-lib the whatever-pops-into-his-head

crap that Roth's given for moments at a time here because his satellite radio

show was too horrifying a proposal.


I have literally no idea what's going on in this intro -- is Wolfgang

farting through a synthesizer? Treating his bass? Preparing a dubstep drop?

When the riff kicks in it's almost incomprehensible, Eddie's sparks flying

everywhere like he's in Blue Cheer or some kind of dark-psych grindcore outfit.

It's kind of cool in a don't-know-which-way-is-up way, and I genuinely respect

how they didn't use this title for a ballad. But they also could've called this

one "Technicalproficiencywithnohook."

"The Trouble with Never"

With barely a break from the last song, they're still

turning out molten boogie molasses, with the first comprehensible David Lee

Roth lyrics in a few tracks and his most hilarious ad libs on the record, most

of which reference Alice in Wonderland and finish off one verse with oh-my-god "1-800-Tell-Me-Baby."

Singlehandedly made the 14-year-wait worth it. Less so: Roth's fake Leonard

Cohen monologue in the middle. Finishes with a good koan: "When was the last

time you had something for the first time?" Bad rhetoric for a reunion album, though.

"Outta Space"

"We outta space," get it? This one's fucking goofy, driving

as hell, with Roth wailing about galaxies like some strange combination of Axl

Rose and Nick Oliveri. Some tossed-off sparks from Eddie and severely weird

chord somersaults remind you that this band will never be generic.

"Stay Frosty"

Hilariously, they tribute their own "Ice Cream Man" from the

debut -- why not just name this Van Halen IV? It has a new

member and everything. In case you're unfamiliar, here's how it goes: Eddie

plays a quicksilver blues shuffle on acoustic, Dave knits a nonsense yarn (in

1977 it was Raekwon-esque ice cream entendres, in 2012 it, who knows,

references Buddhist monks and camels), then electric crazy crunching horns in

and gallops away with plenty of solos in between. Am I a bad fan if I prefer

this to the original?

"Big River"

Wolfgang's bass is Skrillex-level here: booming, blown-out,

and a little bent. It almost charges at you; think "Tramped Underfoot" if said

foot belonged to Brontosaurus on Four Loko. This is probably the first song on

the album one can imagine on the radio, even though the chorus is just the

title like "Tattoo"'s was. Eddie stays in the corners until it's time to finger-tap

his ass off. Good job, gentlemen.

"Beats Workin'"

Assholes. Except they really do work their asses off on this

one. Epic solos, full-month key changes, double-tracked Roth. Although they

really are lazy shits, too: Roth really never had to sing on this album, there

weren't any ballads or particularly melodic ones, and on top of that, maybe one

and a half songs served up a hook. They know rabid fans from 14 years ago will

take what they can get. Assholes. Beats workin'.


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