Given the utter mediocrity of all participants’ output over the previous quarter-century, there was no reason to expect that A Different Kind Of Truth – the first Van Halen album with David Lee Roth singing since 1984 (albeit with young Wolfgang Van Halen now playing bass) – would be remotely enjoyable. That it holds its own in the context of the band’s late-’70s/early-’80s heritage, and might even be a better long-player than, oh, Diver Down in terms of muscle, idiosyncratic song construction, and pure-assed entertainment value, is downright shocking.
That said, it takes a few tracks to get the engine started. Opener and first single, “Tattoo,” just kinda plods – it sounds like the sort of flyover-country clunker you’d expect from Sammy Hagar, to be honest, basically ignorable until the final verse’s atypical pro-union message. Very timely in this labor-busting, right-to-work decade – even if, as rumored, much of the song dates back to VH’s early days. That’s also said to be the case with at least two other tracks on ADKOT; by the time you read this, collectors might well unearth several more similarities to ancient demos. But that’s no reason to dismiss an unearthed gem like the stuttering, road-raging rubber-burner “Bullethead” (rhymes with “mullethead”!), especially when the tactic is hardly new for this band: “House Of Pain,” 1984‘s last track, dated from their mid-’70sPasadena bar days, too.
Anyway, after “Tattoo,” you get the rather rushed (and also allegedly extremely old) “She’s The Woman,” which at least has some funk (and a line about sleeping in a car), and another Hagarishly indistinct grunter called “You and Your Blues.” But beginning with track No. 4, “China Town,” something clicks: a space-prog Eddie buildup into over-the-top-drum-roll, an almost New Wave Of British Heavy Metal forward motion, not to mention the kind of urban street corner lyrics that were always a secret Van Halen strength. Roth heavy-handedly attempts a “heard-ya-missed-me-well-I’m-back” aside in the pompy choogle “Blood And Fire,” but by mid-album, “As Is” – creatively structured if a bit mookish, with an “Ice Cream Man”-style vaudeville-blues shtick detour – he’s motor-mouthing goofy one-liners about Brink’s trucks and hearses like old times.
In “Honeybabysweetiedoll” – one of the set’s top performances despite its dorky title, pulling head-over-heels metal out of odd shortwave static sound effects – and the drummy “The Trouble With Never,” there’s even something beatnik about Diamond Dave’s standup routine: a not-so-distant cousin of Was (Not Was), almost. “Outta Space” has interstellar robot-metal parts that could pass for Voivod (also a funny sci-fi conceit: “Go home, the earth is full”); “Stay Frosty” starts out with Celtic backporch Zep picking then turns into more easy ice-cream blues, complete with rabbis and Buddhist monks; and both songs mention eskimos back-to-back. “Big River” is some inspirational eyes-wide-open big-sky rock. And then the album ends more or less like it started, with a bloviating clump of bloat called “Beats Workin” where even the beats don’t work all that great. Smart move, fellas – don’t wanna leave us with hopes too high for next time.