Music Review: Van Halen ageless on new album

February 6, 2012 - 2:45 PM
Music Review Van Halen

In this CD cover image released by Interscope records, the latest release by Van Halen, "A Different Kind of Truth," is shown. (AP Photo/Interscope)

Van Halen, "A Different Kind Of Truth" (Interscope)

Let's face it, for many fans, Van Halen without founding singer David Lee Roth just isn't Van Halen. It's Van Hagar. Or even Van That-Guy-From-Extreme.

Nearly 30 years after Roth and his bandmates parted ways following the group's "1984" album, they're back with "A Different Kind Of Truth."

Despite its title, the album's 13 tracks feel more than a little bit familiar, which is a good thing if you're looking to rewind the clock to Van Halen circa the late 1970s and early 1980s. If that sort of thing strikes you as dad-rock, however, then not so much.

Regardless, "A Different Kind Of Truth" shows 14 years since the last full Van Halen album, guitar demon Eddie Van Halen remains at the top of his game, betraying no hint of age or wear in his guitar work. All the staples are there: scorching riffs, waves of overlapping notes that dive bomb into deep growls and signature sonic horse wails.

Notably absent from "A Different Kind Of Truth" are the keyboard-heavy songs or power ballads found in the stretch of albums with Sammy Hagar on vocals.

Instead, Van Halen mostly delivers hard-pounding rockers — less "Jump," more "Atomic Punk."

And speed. Several tracks, such as the relentless "Bullethead" and "As Is," fueled by a rockabilly-like riff, are as fast and heavy as anything Van Halen has previously done.

A lot of the credit for that goes to drummer Alex Van Halen and Eddie Van Halen's son, Wolfgang, on bass. (Wolfgang replaced original Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony during a U.S. tour about four years ago.)

Roth's voice hasn't aged quite as well, but his delivery is lively and he lobs in plenty of his trademark yelps.

The singer always was equal parts hype man and frontman, and on some tracks, like the underwhelming first single, "Tattoo," he's in over-the-top, Diamond Dave mode, singing "Sexy dragon magic! So very autobiographic!"

Singing with an audible wink worked better on their smash hit "Panama," but you can't blame Roth for trying. He's just giving fans of Van Halen 1.0 what they've wanted for three decades.

And on party rocker "Blood and Fire," Roth tells those fans: "Told you I was coming back/Say you miss me/Say it like you mean it."