Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Van Halen Give Us a New "Tattoo"


I love Van Halen. I have loved Van Halen for many years. Even during the darkest times, when I felt like loving that band was akin to enabling an abusive relationship. Fourteen years of nothing, after an album that I actually liked, but most people didn't. All we really got in that time was three new tracks with Sammy Hagar for a greatest hits package.

Then, David Lee Roth comes back, Michael Anthony gets kicked to the curb, and replaced with Wolfgang, Eddie Van Halen's son. There's a big reunion tour in 2007-2208, that sells well, and everyone's excited.

Then...more crickets. Album in the works. Eddie needs surgery on his hand. Tours scheduled. Tours cancelled. Rumors of album finished. Rumors of fights over mixing. Blah, blah, blah.

Then, finally, a video on van-halen.com (still, even now, the absolute worst website for a major, "active" artist, ever. Led Zeppelin has a better website.) announcing an announcement on Jan 10th. I have to tell you, this thing going on now, announcing that there will be an announcement...LAME.

Anyway. Long story short. Single and video on Jan 10th (along with tickets on sale for the tour), and a new album, ultimately announced as titled A Different Kind of Truth, on February 2nd.

I'd like to tell you I was excited. I can't tell you that. In fact, I just had a sinking feeling. Maybe that was unfair, but it was my gut reaction. I've learned to trust my gut.

So, it's the 10th, and the single, Tattoo, was released today, with a video. Apparently, they're not going to go iTunes exclusive with the single. I've listened to it several times.

Here's the deal. It's not a BAD song, it's just a dull one. (It's also, apparently, a re-working of a demo from the late 70's called Down in Flames, that, frankly, is a better version.) It's exactly not the sort of track they should've released to hype the fans for a new album. There was a comment on a message board, "I wanted Van Halen at 10, this is Van Halen at 5." I think that's about as apt a description as I can come up with. The real problem is, I don't know that Van Halen, with Roth, has a 10 anymore.

It reminds me of the last go-around with Roth, that produced Me Wise Magic (which is just OK) and Can't Get This Stuff No More (which just kinda lies there). Tattoo just doesn't feel like it has much drive. I described it, right off the bat, as "this song/clip reminds me of a 80-year-old man in a Ferrari. He's cruising around, feeling like he's the coolest cat on earth, but he's in first gear, going 40 on the freeway."

A huge part of that problem is just Roth. He's become a walking parody. You're almost 60, dude, there has to be some modulation between the "Diamond Dave" routine and a rest home, and you just, can't, find, it. The gags are old, and you can't fall back on your voice, because it was never there to begin with.

Say what you will about Sammy Hagar, but the reunion tracks he did with Van Halen in 2004, It's About Time, Up for Breakfast and Learning to See, while not the greatest Hagar tracks, blow all of this stuff out of the water. That's pretty simply because Hagar, and I'm not getting into the debate about which albums were better, here, is far beyond Roth in terms of technical ability. Hagar is a vocalist, Roth is a personality, and the problem there is that when the personality get to be a parody of itself, you have a problem.

My profound hope is that the other twelve tracks on this disk display more energy than what they chose to show us right out of the gate.

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