Thursday, February 16, 2012

More on "A Different Kind of Truth"

Sometimes an album does grow on you.

When I first listened to A Different Kind of Truth, I was fairly underwhelmed. The elements were all in place, but I also felt like the songs were lacking. I still stand by that assessment, and I think the album is getting a lot of praise, not for being a great album, but for not being a terrible one. The most rational and clear-headed review I've read so far is Chuck Klosterman's. I think he's smart enough to have figured out how to process the fan's excitement that this album exists at all, and the facts of what the record actually is.

It is not perfect, and it's not a "return to form." Anybody who says that is too caught up in their own, personal, need for it to be a return to form. However, what it does present is what Van Halen is right now. Dave can't be the Diamond Dave of 1984, his solo career represents a, slowly sliding downhill, embarrassing testament to that fact. Eddie spent too many years crafting less jaggedly adventurous rock with Sammy Hagar (not a criticism - I am a fan of all eras of Van Halen, but Sammy was more of a classic songsmith than Roth will ever be). They can't just put all that away and be 20 again, and to want or expect them to is unfair to them, and yourself as a fan.

The problem, I think, is that they try to do just that, at points. I am still disappointed at the re-use of demo songs from the late 70's. I am. I'm far more interested in what the band can create today than how they can re-purpose songs and riffs that weren't good enough (for whatever reason) to get on an album more than a quarter of a century ago. I also can't shake the real feeling that the need to re-use old material speaks to a deep fissure in the band. Of course, it's Van Halen, there's always deep fissures and drama, but...even for all the cash you're gonna rake in, you can't get in a room and hack out some songs together?

All that is prelude to saying that I do like the album more than when I posted my first impressions. I don't love it, and there's a very long swath of songs at the midpoint that really drag, but I've reassessed by initial feeling that there were no hooks here. Sometimes I feel like Eddie would like to have some of those big, sweeping choruses that Hagar did so well, and Roth is simply uninterested, as well as just not having the voice for that kind of thing. The music and vocals sound a little at odds, but that tension can be interesting. Again, it's Van Halen right now, artists who's grown and evolved. When that's acknowledged, cool stuff happens.

There are several really good tracks, and at least one excellent one. "Tattoo" is still a really poor choice for a first single, but it's grown on me. "She's the Woman" maintains the energy and drive, which leads into "You and Your Blues," which is the first really good track on the record. "China Town" works for the most part, and "Blood and Fire" kicks some ass.

Then we get into the stretch where they lose me. "Bullethead" is just awful (I stand behind my initial assesment "Van Halen for idiots"), "As Is" kinda rocks, but also has this sense of meandering, "Honeybabysweetiedoll" is dull, "The Trouble With Never" (I agree with a critic I read...somewhere - a much better album title) feels like leftovers, and "Outta Space" has one of those "clever" lyrics that just pains you the more you listen to it. Let me be clear, these are NOT bad tracks, but neither are they exciting. I think Klosterman hits the nail on the head when he says some stuff here (especially this section, for me)  feels like a conscious reproduction of what used to be organic.

Things get back on track with "Stay Frosty," which is clearly one of Chuck K's "conscious replications." It's the "Ice Cream Man" track, in tone and execution. It's also highly energized and fun, so I'm OK with it. The real keeper on the record, however, is the following track, "Big River," which is just epic. It's the one point you can hear, then point to and say, "they still can do it, and make it feel fresh." Sadly, after that track, "Beats Workin'" is really anti-climactic.

There's general things I can go into a well. There are tracks that feel like Roth solo material, and I think that can go right back to the fact (that many people have run into the ground) that Michael Anthony's backing vocals are sorely missed here. Other than that, Wolfgang Van Halen acquits himself well. Eddie is on fire on most tracks, and Alex is as solid as ever. The problems that I have with the album have nothing to do with musicianship.

I'm sure I'll get hate mail for this review. That's fine. As I've blogged about before, I point out a few weaknesses, and suddenly I "hate" the album, or movie, or whatever. I don't. I certainly don't hate A Different Kind of Truth, I quite like it, but I think the people spouting off with "it's like 24 years never happened" are deluding themselves. This is a solid album, which, if we're honest, is probably more than we could ever have expected. I'm just used to more than solid from Van Halen.

Top Tracks:
  • Big River
  • You and Your Blues
  • Blood and Fire
  • She's the Woman

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