Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Different Kind of Truth -- Van Halen -- Review

A Different Kind of Truth (2012)
Rating: 7
"You wanna be a monk, you gotta cook a lotta rice"
Best Song: Blood and Fire
Worst Song: China Town, maybe...

       Well they heard you missed 'em, and they're back. Apparently time heals all wounds, and thus Diamond Dave rejoined forces with Eddie, Alex, and Micha--...oh, wait. Michael Anthony's still missing, leaving Eddie's son Wolfgang Van Halen (I'm still torn as to whether that's an amazing name, or a terrible one) to take over the duties on backing vocals and bass. And hey, he's great! I actually saw this lineup live last year (great show, by the way), and Wolfie absolutely tore it up -- he's a fantastic bass player, one that's easily as talented as Michael in my opinion.
       And as for the other band members, geeez these guys are on fire. Alex hasn't lost a beat since the band's glory days (pun most certainly intended), and Eddie, well, he might sound even better than he used to! Okay, his tone on the album is a little too "generic heavy metal" for my tastes, but as far as sheer chutzpah and talent is concerned, he's at the top of his game. Roth, on the other hand...well...
        ...he kinda sucks. Actually, "kinda" is too nice of a word; he really sucks. I would go as far as saying that his voice actually downgrades the album by a decent amount. For starters, he's mixed really loud, so it's virtually impossible to look over him. For the entire fifty-minute running time, he sounds like an old man trying ridiculously hard to be hip, and it's very, very painful -- especially on a song like "Stay Frosty", where he attempts to reach back into the showman shtick of tracks like "Big Bad Bill" or "Ice Cream Man" to particularly embarrassing effect. It's bad. Really bad. And the rest of the band, while certainly professional and talented, don't really sound like Van Halen. There's none of the winking irony, the interesting sonic techniques, or the unique instrumental ideas. Eddie's playing is impressive, yes, but it's not that enjoyable. It's just a lot of showboating wankery, and it just doesn't quite work for me.
       The songwriting here isn't exactly aces either. Some tracks, like the pummeling "She's the Woman" and "Blood and Fire" were written back during the band's early years, and these are the clear highlights ("Blood" is actually a near-classic, a powerful "we're the best!" anthem that actually lives up to its slightly self-aggrandizing lyrics) -- the newer material, though, like the afore-mentioned "Stay Frosty", sticks out like a sore thumb, and even some of the older tracks come off as stilted and awkward thanks to Dave's paltry delivery. It also doesn't help that the band is in full-on "RAWK" mode for the entire record, leaving you completely bored after about four tracks. I've heard worse reunion albums, sure, but I've also heard much better, and unless you're a really big fan, I wouldn't go for it.

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