Monday, February 06, 2012
A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH
Doorbells...three of them...oddly harmonizing...have been uploaded to my cerebellum...flown in telepathically...as the swarm of notes reaches a crescendo, a snippet of the ringing sound that my parents' old dial-phone made is looped backward, dancing at 150 miles per hour...floating over the din is a familiar voice...the one with a wink between every word...though it's been a long time, I welcome this sound back into my life with a warm embrace...
Van Halen returns, emerging from an extended hiatus reunited with David Lee Roth, yet estranged from bassist Michael Anthony. Eddie Van Halen's son, Wolfgang, now holds down the low end, keeping time with his Uncle Alex. The quartet have gone back to the blueprint that made the six Roth-era discs so engaging then...and now. Wolfie wasn't even a gleam in his old man's eye when the last record with Roth (1984) was issued some 28 years ago.
Back then, this rectangular work of the devil was cutting a destructive swath through the music industry, snatching food from the tables of both the artists and record company CEOs.
Perhaps YOU were one of the dirty thieves who taped 1984 from your buddy's vinyl copy while you were over at his place to score some weed. You may have even mistakenly erased Pyromania while high, thinking that you were recording on the blank side.
Waking up in 2012 after a long slumber, the lads in VH look upon a musical landscape that has been peppered with a ton of awful, targeted missiles launched from the greasy silos of greedy, inept marketing weasels. Adding to that misery is the new arch-nemesis of the biz in the 21st century: file sharing and illegal downloading. The cassette tape? Long buried in the eternal landfill of obsolescence.
Lord, strike this poor boy down...
Taking up pretty much where they left off, the band welds together a number of old demos (ranging from the mid-70s through to cast offs from the 1984 sessions), polishing/re-recording them, re-writing lyrics and casting them alongside newly penned material.
Gone is the awful guitar tone that EVH adopted in 1986, keyboard noodling, over-serious pop-rock-radio confections and all traces of the Van Hagar period.
Good fucking riddance!
The untouchable Van Halen sound of old is restored to it's former glory (albeit missing the golden harmonies of Michael Anthony) along with the much missed humor that Roth brought to the table so effortlessly.
Result? A Different Kind of Awesome!
Welcome to "China Town". Eddie's scorching intro alone is worth the price of admission, but it gets even better with an opening line stolen from a classic New York Post front page banner
Headless body in a topless bar
Need some double-time, eight-armed Alex Van Halen action? It's all happening downtown. Frets burn, fingers move in a blur as Ed's solo is flight of the bumblebee stuck to the front windscreen of the Concorde.
All of this within three minutes. Quintessential Van Halen.
Highlights? "Blood and Fire" is beautifully catchy, without losing its edge. Eddie straddles the line between virtuosity and melody perfectly. This is one from the archives, given new life and lyrics courtesy of Roth. Same goes for the taster single/lead off track ("Tattoo") and the dirt-under-the fingernails, rotating-riff driven "She's the Woman", both of which pre-date the first album.
"Honeybabysweetiedoll" combines a number of motifs as the trio steers expertly through a minefield of time signatures, jaw-dropping guitar figures and Roth-rap. "You and your Blues" is another standout.
One thing that this set does not do is let up; not for a second. Relentless, the back nine of the proceedings demands your attention, as you have seasoned musicians inviting you to take part in a very thrilling ride. Picking up speed, the handful of songs that close out "A Different Kind of Truth" all contain much to be desired. "Stay Frosty" has an intro which is a huge nod to their past (think Ice Cream Man) and explodes into a buffet of electricity, shaking hands with the 2012 version of the group quite comfortably. It even has a big stinky ending that's evil enough to turn your lawn brown.
Icing on the cake? "Big River" bringing it all home, with a definite swing infused in the playing. As it fades, you will be exhausted and happy to start the wagon wheel rolling all over again.
All of the stylistic tricks in the VH book of magic are employed, though these devices still work better than a Swiss watch. It is refreshing to report that this is a truly energetic record, devoid of any embarrassing attempts to embrace the pathetic, soulless garbage sounds that are currently clogging radio play-lists. Definite cigar for all involved on that front.
This means that for you, the fans, you will mercifully NOT hear any of the following:
1) David Lee Roth rapping
2) A-list, hip-hop artists talking over tracks
3) Ugly sounding, auto-tuned vocals
4) Crappy, synthetic noises standing in for the musicians
5) Pretentious, angst ridden lyrics
6) Four guys phoning it in
Eddie Van Halen? Innovative genius, still eons ahead of his imitators. Everyone acquits themselves in admirable fashion here. This is simply great rock and roll and will be a breath of fresh air for those who have waited far too long to hear some.
Told ya I was comin' back...say that ya missed me