By SEAN DALY
Times Pop Music Critic
The new Van Halen album is called A Different Kind of Truth, but the dumb, delicious truth is that it's the same kind of randy metallic thrust the boys unloaded while rebelling against the starched-collar Reagan administration. All these years later, nothing's different at all, and bless them for their failure to grow into responsible adults.
On its first full-length LP since 1984, Van Halen's almost-original lineup returns for a high-flyin', overwrought good time: motormouth David Lee Roth, guitar god Eddie Van Halen and psychotic drummer Alex Van Halen, with Ed's kid Wolfgang taking over Michael Anthony's role as Chewbaccian bass player.
If great chunks of the universe care little about the L.A. quartet, I know a lot of middle-aged dudes who are right now limbering up their chubby digits to air-guitar along with Eddie, who's reportedly sober and decidedly mind-blowing on several tracks, displaying the classically trained virtuoso in rocket-boosted creative form.
Released this week, A Different Kind of Truth tastes pretty much like the Van Halen of old — and by old I mean pre-Jump, pre-gloss, the good ol' hairy-chested days of 1980's Women and Children First. Yes, there's some middling filler strewn about — alas, always a VH crutch — but there are tremendous face-melting blasts of giddiness here, too.
Opening cut and first single Tattoo — oddly polished, with Diamond Dave's shoobie-doobie sounding tired and awkward — had some fans nervous, as it leaned more toward Van Halen circa Sammy Hagar. But rest assured Tattoo's not even close to being the best thing on the LP, and Roth's limitations are wisely protected in most of the tracks.
The festivities truly open with track No. 2, She's the Woman, which has been fleshed out from a 1976 demo. Reminiscent of Somebody Get Me a Doctor from Van Halen II, the song has that vintage sonic crunch of their best work, with Eddie's finger-tapping majesty in full force. Some fans have been harping on Wolfie's harmonizing not being as good as Anthony's, but whatever: I'm not noticing much of a dropoff.
A clear-headed, lightning-fingered Eddie is the true star, especially on the punk-speed frenzy of China Town, which merges both playful and pyrotechnic a la seminal classic I'm the One. He shows off his deft acoustic chops on Ice Cream Man sequel Stay Frosty, a faux-blues romp that grows on you, even with Roth's street-corner shaman patter: A solitary Buddhist monk threw me a bone / He looked me in the eye and said 'Don't make me say this twice' / 'If you want to be a monk you gotta cook a lot of rice.' Sure, Dave, whatever you say.
On the record's best track, As Is, the boys' reunion feels complete. Alex kicks things off with a Godzilla-sized wallop that Wolfie thumpingly joins. Eddie goes off on Mozartian fret journeys, and DLR shrieks and snarls and throws in all manner of smartalecky asides: "This next part should really confuse things. Everybody, let's stay focused."
Not only are the boys not killing each other, they're actually having fun. How long will it last? Could this mean more albums, more fun? Who knows? But this is one middle-aged dude who's keeping his chubby fingers crossed.
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.