First, I need to make one confession: I grew up listening to ‘Van Hagar’, i.e. Van Halen with Sammy Hagar as vocalist. Their first album I listened to was ‘5150’, and it remains as one of my favourite rock album. And given that background, for years I believed that Sammy is much better vocalist than David Lee Roth. Yes, I like DLR as well (his album ‘Skyscrapper’ made my all-time rock album list as well!), but for me, Van Halen is much better band with Sammy than Dave.
I am not among the Van Halen fans who are excited and eagerly awaiting for the new album because DLR is back to the band. I’m happy enough to know Eddie is back after his cancer treatment and alcohol-addict treatment. So I’m expecting this album because of that sole reason. Besides, this is not the first time DLR is back to the line-up after that monumental ‘1984’ juggernaut. They recorded 2 songs before in 1996 (‘Me Wise Magic’ and ‘Can’t Get This Stuff No More’ from ‘Van Halen Best of Volume I’), and honestly, they were ordinary. So what’s the big deal?
After several listens to Van Halen’s new album, “A Different Kind of Truth” I can say that this is among the best Van Halen album I’ve ever heard. In this album, somehow we can recapture Eddie’s energy playing guitar when he first broke into musical scene at his 20s (he is now 60s for God sake!). His guitar playing is at its raw best. It sounds old-school, but simultaneously feel polished. His riff in ‘She’s The Woman’ is one you expect from the maestro in his hey-day. It hooked you from first listen. His licks in ‘Outta Space’ reveals quirkiness unfound in Van Halen latest albums with Sammy Hagar.
And in my opinion, Eddie is not the only person carrying Van Halen name who shines bright in this album. There’s another one: Wolfgang.
Coming in as Michael Anthony’s replacement on bass, Wolfgang hardly disappoint. In fact, he injects some style into Van Halen’s groove section. He is a truly outstanding bass player. In some songs, he plays in Sheehan-esque (‘Blood and Fire’, ‘Bullethead’), while in other songs (e.g. ‘She’s The Woman’, ‘The Trouble with Never’) his unique bass line makes you realize, you may miss Mikey, but his absence in this album is probably a ‘blessing in disguise’. On the backing vocal front, I can happily report the young Wolfie does not disappoint me to cover those classic high-pitch vocal harmonies used to be Mikey’s trademark.
Alex delivers his usual high quality drumming. No complaint there, even though no extra ordinary feat to report as well, except he is still capable to deliver the high-speed double-bass drumming previously found in ‘Hot for Teacher’ or ‘Source of Infection’. You will find in at least two songs here: ‘China Town’ and ‘As Is’ where Alex is pounding his drums like other younger drummers out there.
How about Dave? Uh. The frontman is still the frontman. He is still capable in reaching high notes (not sure on the live stage though), but he also did not forget to please the fans with his trademark low-tone bass voice (‘Trouble with Never’). As in his many albums, solo or with Van Halen, he is still mumbling and talking within the songs with a wittingly-selected words. One of the highlight surely his words in ‘Blood and Fire’ when he seemingly told his fans: “Told you I was coming back/Say you miss me/Say it like you mean it.”. Boom.
Now onto tracks. Some songs immediately hooked into my vibe: ‘She’s The Woman’, ‘Big River’ and ‘Tattoo’. Others need several listens to grow in me. Have several listens to these songs, I eventually rated them as ‘4 stars’ on my iPod: ‘You and Your Blues’, ‘Beats Workin’, ‘Outta Space’. And you can’t hardly notice Van Halen up the tempo at this album. The older Van Halen fans will also happy to hear the quirkiness is back in ‘Stay Frosty’ (can’t imagine Sammy does this thing). Those who are longing for hard rock songs that really hard, will be pleased with ‘China Town’, ‘Bullethead’ and ‘As Is’ which are not only delivered in high tempo, but also featuring Eddie’s trademark finger-tapping guitar works all the way.
All in all, as you can already conclude by now, I rated this album very high. It’s probably too early in this time of the year, but this definitely ranks up as my ‘Album of the Year 2012″. With this strong release, together with Anthrax ‘Worship Music’ and Metallica’s ‘Death Magnetic’, can we safely say ‘Rock’ music is back?