We’ve earned this, right? When David Lee Roth and Van Halen went down their own separate mean streets in the Eighties, who paid the price? We did. Van Halen fans everywhere have suffered through the years, waiting for this reunion. We don’t need it to be Fair Warning or Van Halen II. We don’t even need it to be Diver Down. We just deserve a break.
Well, as the man used to say: one break, coming up. Van Halen’s “heard you missed us, we’re back” album is not only the most long-awaited reunion joint in the history of reunion joints, it is – against all reasonable expectations – a real Van Halen album. It’s sonically closer to 1984 than to 5150, but it’s closer to 1980’s Women and Children First than to either – no synth glop, no ballads. Eddie always liked to compare the band’s sound to “Godzilla waking up,” but this is the real deal. And the old lizard sounds hungry to chomp some power lines.
A Different Kind of Truth is the first Van Halen album since the Nineties dregs of Balance and Van Halen III, which were just humiliating Styx rips. But Eddie has rediscovered his guitar and unplugged the synths, as if Roth’s presence reminded Eddie who his band is named after. Since there’s never been a single Van Halen fan in history who secretly wished Eddie would put down the guitar and play more keyboards, this is a coup. Especially because Eddie’s solos have the fluency of his early Eighties playing – just listen to him stretch out on “Big River” and “Blood and Fire.”
If the songs are based on 1970s demos, that was a wise move, because wherever these 13 tunes came from, there isn’t a single Waldo on the bus. The tempos are atomic-punk fast, letting Alex Van Halen rock out on the drums for the first time since his flaming-gong days. Original bassist Michael Anthony is missed for his bottom end, and even more for his kicked-in-the-nads harmonies. But Wolfgang Van Halen, Eddie’s son, acquits himself superbly – he definitely doesn’t flunk if anyone asks, “Have you seen Junior’s grades?”
As for Diamond Dave, the gods only made one of him, because they couldn’t take the competition. Now this is a rock star, except no other rock star would try to get away with this many cornball one-liners (“It’s looking like the city towed my other apartment!”). He’s lost a high note or two, but the “stone-cold sister soccer moms” he pursues in “Honeybabysweetiedoll” probably like him better this way.
Toward the end, Roth reaches down between his legs, eases the seat back and shifts into “Stay Frosty.” It’s not just the show-stopper – it’s a four-minute anthology of everything that rules about Van Halen. It begins as an acoustic country-blues goof, then switches into metal bombast, as Eddie’s fingers and Roth’s lips take turns showing off. “Stay Frosty” ends with the trick Van Halen did better than any band ever: the crashing power-chord-and-drumroll finale, which goes on for 30 insane seconds. It’s ridiculous. It’s obnoxious. It’s awesome. This moment alone sums up why the album needed to happen. We’ve earned it. And so have they.
Listen to Van Halen’s “Tattoo”: