I was three years old the last time Van Halen released an album with David Lee Roth as their lead singer, so the release of A Different Kind Of Truth would be momentous enough even if it wasn’t much good. Luckily, it sounds exactly as exciting and entertaining as anyone could have hoped for.
It’s been a long, long time coming (28 years to be precise), and it’s not like the band have been prolific without Diamond Dave in recent years. Other than a few new tracks recorded for a compilation (with Sammy Hagar on vocals), there’s not been a new album since Van Halen III in 1998. Some might argue that album barely even counts, so disastrous was Gary Cherone’s brief stint in the band.
Indeed, it’s been a turbulent few years for Van Halen, starting when Hagar quit the group in 1996 and was replaced by DLR for just about long enough to record a couple of new tracks (I still love Me Wise Magic) for their first compilation album. That was followed by the Cherone years, a hiatus, a reunion with Hagar for a tour that was undermined by Eddie Van Halen’s drink problems, Hagar’s departure, bassist Michael Anthony’s removal from history (or at least the band and old photos of them on their website) and then the return of Diamond Dave.
Somehow, in amongst all this, they’ve managed to record their best and most cohesive album in a long time. Arguably since 1984, that last Roth-era album. Certainly since new bassist Wolfgang Van Halen (awesome name or what?) was born in 1991. Fans will always be split on the Hagar years and the big hit power ballads they brought (personally, I liked most of the Hagar stuff), but it’s hard to think of any that will be disappointed with A Different Kind Of Truth, which gets back to doing what the band always did best.
Remarkably, given the amount of time and water that has passed under the bridge of this band, the new material sounds eerily like it could have been recorded around the time of the first two Van Halen albums, with Roth’s vocals still powerful and charismatic and Eddie’s guitar work sounding as incredible as it ever did. Wisely, they steer clear of the synths that crept into the band’s sound in the 80s, and it’s a timely reminder of why Van Halen were such an important band when they broke onto the scene.
Songs like Tattoo, The Trouble With Never and Big River are fun, lively and sound much more fresh than you’d expect, and it’s also notable that only one track on the whole album goes past the five minute mark (and even then only just). On Van Halen III, only two instrumental filler tracks were shorter than that, the rest were overlong, overblown and dull, something that the band rarely were in their glory days. Now those days are back, and while it could (and probably will) all implode soon, at the very least, these rock kings have reclaimed their crown.