Van Halen: A Different Kind of Truth

A Different Kind of Truth is a return to form, but that doesn't mean it captures the brilliance of Van Halen's early recordings.

Van Halen

A Different Kind of Truth

Label: Interscope
US Release Date: 2012-02-07
UK Release Date: 2012-02-06
Artist Website

If Van Halen had never made an album again, the last album to the band's name would have been the universally derided Van Halen III, which was the band's second attempt at a new frontman in Extreme vocalist Gary Cherone. The move was a strange one; while the "Van Hagar" period of the band didn't bring out much great material, it wasn't entirely terrible. The cause of Hagar's departure from the band in the mid-'90s is still somewhat unclear, but suffice to say that his departure derailed the career of one of classic rock's most beloved bands. After the failure of Van Halen III in 1998, the band went on a five-year hiatus. In the past decade the band got together and toured, but they didn't take the time to record any new studio material.

That is, until now.

The band has reunited, with original frontman David Lee Roth back in the lineup. Most, myself included, welcome this return. There was something about Roth's exuberant flamboyance that made Van Halen's already ostentatious music even better. Hearing classics like "Dance the Night Away" and "Hot for Teacher" with any other frontman just wouldn't sound right. With A Different Kind of Truth, the band seems to be headed back toward the heyday of classic albums like Van Halen II (still the band's finest, in my opinion) and 1984. The question now is obvious: is the old Van Halen back?

The answer is yes. But that doesn't mean that the band's music is as good as it was.

From beginning to end, A Different Kind of Truth is chock full of the material that made Van Halen such innovators over 30 years ago. Eddie Van Halen, arguably the archetype for classic rock guitar virtuoso, lays down some absolutely killer guitar tracks: the double-hand tapping intro to "China Town" proves that he hasn't lost his lightning-quick talent as the years have gone on. The rhythm section is also noteworthy. Bass player Wolfgang Van Halen, at only 20, keeps up rather impressively with his older bandmates. And then there's Roth... from the moment he shouts "Tat-too, Tat-too!" at the beginning of the record, it's clear that he hasn't lost any of the over-the-top theatricality that made Van Halen the dominant presence they were when Roth was around. All in all, the stage that is set by Roth's return puts the band in the position to make a dramatic comeback. And while the music of A Different Kind of Truth is a throwback to the band's early years, the band doesn't do much work in terms of making this material sound fresh. For that reason, the record is a fun and nostalgic listen for fans of the band, but on the whole rather unmemorable.

Though the record's lack of originality is a problem, it's somewhat nice considering the routes the band could have chosen to take in making this record. They could have decided to merely rehash their old songs with slightly different lyrics and chord progressions. One song is plainly guilty of this: "Stay Frosty" tries to take the same formula that made "Ice Cream Man" so memorable, but instead it just sounds like a louder and faster version of that older song. At one point Roth also talks about "dancing the night away" in "As Is", but fortunately that's the extent of the band trying to reformulate old material. Still, while they aren't trying to create carbon copies of their old hits (cough, Foreigner, cough), they don't diverge in any unique way on their old sonic. Roth has mentioned that much of the material on this album comes from stuff the band wrote in the '70s; this desire to go back to the band's roots may be good, but there's also got to be some forward thinking involved, which there isn't a lot of on this album.

Now make no mistake: live, this music will probably be thrilling. After being out of the band for almost thirty years, it'll be exciting to see how Roth and the band have managed to stay in the game after all of these years. The music here is enjoyable to listen to, even if it's a "check-your-brain-at-the-stereo" type of experience. But as an album, A Different Kind of Truth is a case of looking back without taking the time to glance forward. Van Halen are as fast, garish, and cocksure as they've ever been, but if the band doesn't decide to take some different musical directions, they'll just end up like any other classic rock band pretending that the '70s are as alive today as they were then.






A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.