A Different Kind of Truth (Interscope)
Reunion albums are that diciest of musical propositions—the proverbial idea that works far better on paper than it ever does in reality. No more so could this be the case than with Van Halen, a band whose fans had been clamoring for a reunion with original lead singer David Lee Roth—something that had failed to stick on two prior occasions in the past twenty years.
This 12th studio album represents the return of Roth to the fold for the first time since 1984, (both the year and album). And while Van Halen progeny Wolfgang replaces founding member Michael Anthony, the band still retains its vintage sound marked by Eddie Van Halen’s singular guitar histrionics and Roth’s hip patter and swagger.
Adding to the authenticity was the decision to hit the vaults and unearth previously unreleased material from the ’70s, a wise move that comes across as the band sounding as if they were picking up where they left off 28 years ago. Certain cuts bear the stylistic DNA of previously existing VH songs—“She’s the Woman” has a chugging rhythm not unlike “Mean Streets” and the hammer-ons EVH sprinkles through sections of “As Is” is reminiscent of “Sinner’s Swing.”
Elsewhere, the band’s sense of compositional adventure that yielded prior anomalies like “Little Guitars” and “Could This Be Magic” is alive and well on “Stay Frosty,” which goes from an “Ice Cream Man”-like acoustic guitar intro that switches gears into far-flung soloing, a hint of harmonies and Alex Van Halen keeping time on his the rim of his snare-drum.
While the lumbering “Tattoo” comes off as the album’s weakest song and oddest choice for a lead single, it has an ear-worm quality to it that will have the chorus rattling around your brainpan long after the music ends.
For Van Halen, it’s clear that there is still enough chemistry between DLR and the Van Halen clan to buck the trend of failed expectations and extreme disappoint that’s more often the rule than the exception regarding group reunions.
Van Halen will play Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, 2.28.