No band truly embodies the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll mentality quite like Van Halen. The gods of rock, who first made their performance debut in 1974 on Hollywood’s infamous Sunset Strip, have become known for two things: creating hard rock anthems and maintaining a mystique around their rockstar lifestyle. Unfortunately, internal conflict among band members, drug abuse and other issues resulted in frontman David Lee Roth’s departure in 1985, leaving the future of the band in question.
Now, 40 years after the group formed in 1972, with three vocalists and two bassists having come and gone, hard rock’s notorious bad boys are back with A Different Kind of Truth, the group’s first album in 14 years. Although the lineup features one small change (fellow Van Halen brother Wolfgang has filled the large shoes of past bassists Mark Stone and Michael Anthony), Van Halen is better than ever. The group made headlines back in January and, most recently, this month for their two comeback shows, with fans relieved that the band has retained the bravado and vigor that helped catapult them to success.
Opener “Tattoo” struts confidently over arena-ready guitars, bass and drums. “Swap meet Sally/Tramp stamp Kat,” croons Roth, the iconic heartbreaker humorously reminiscing on past promiscuous encounters. Wolfgang silences skeptics at the very beginning; his bass is punchy and declarative, serving as the backbone to older brother Eddie’s virtuoso guitar technique.
“China Town” is this generation’s “Panama.” Eddie and Wolfgang provide a thrilling introduction by playing off of one another, before Alex’s powerful double bass drum comes knocking everything down. The synchronized hits between the brothers are flawless, the momentum growing with intensity as Roth proudly sings, “Welcome to China Town.” Similar to “Panama,” “China Town” is a freight train running on pure, unattended adrenaline: it chugs on menacingly, its rapid-fire tempo the perfect accompaniment to a night of fist-pumping and head-banging.
This is what’s great about A Different Kind of Truth: it is constantly heavy, but not to the point of redundancy. The album maintains a fierce and aggressive attitude that is refreshing but, most importantly, nostalgic. Van Halen gives listeners what they want: Eddie’s unparalleled guitar technique, Alex’s dynamic drums, Wolfgang’s pulsating bass and Roth’s charismatic persona. The group doesn’t try to emulate their contemporaries or experiment with new sounds; they rely solely on what made them successful in the first place.
A Different Kind of Truth serves as a nice walk down memory lane, while taking time to introduce itself to new ears. Old-school fans will enjoy the nostalgic atmosphere that surrounds the album, while new fans will come to understand why the group is regarded as one of rock’s best bands.