2012 WAS GOOD TO VAN HALEN NATION
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In Van Halen's album "A Different Kind Of Truth" seven of the thirteen songs are clearly old demos. How many of the other six songs are "old demos" is a fact lost on all but those who have been in Van Halen. The rest of us do not know, nor are we familiar with the whole story regarding the other six songs. Edward Van Halen uses the wah pedal on this album more than any album in Van Halen's history. Edward and David Lee Roth paid homage to many iconic guitarists and bands directly in Edward's playing and on David Lee Roth's vocal references on "A Different Kind Of Truth," including Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, the Beatles, Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Robert Johnson, Elmore James, Canned Heat, Jim Dandy and Jerry Reed.
The public's first impression of Van Halen's new album, "A Different Kind Of Truth," was the song "Tattoo." Not lost on many knowledgeable fans was the fact that "Tattoo" uses the foundation of the song "Down In Flames" as the arrangement, albeit changed, and with new lyrics penned by David Lee Roth of course. Oddly not mentioned is the fact that this song has keyboards on it. I don't know that I read one review that mentions this. I don't mean the times Eddie is playing between the 20th and 24th positions (frets) which are obviously guitar, and one could inaccurately perceive those parts to be keyboards... I mean hear the KEYBOARDS! You can hear them in the first verse, behind and between "I got Elvis... On my elbow... When I flex... Elvis talks." then you hear the keys clearest of any point in the song. "Tattoo" being the first single made many believe the songs on this album would not rock hard. It was released first because it was believed to be the most "radio friendly" however I disagree. I think all the rest of the songs on the album after "Tattoo" are worthy of release. All are harder than "Tattoo" however, except maybe "Blood And Fire". I feel the public's first impression of this album should have been one of the new (totally unrecognizable) songs. I would have voted for "Honeybabysweetiedoll" or "Stay Frosty".
Long before the actual news of Van Halen's intent on using some old demos as a foundation on "A Different Kind Of Truth" there was a day I finished and uploaded an "Open Letter To Edward Van Halen". Simultaneously and quite ironically there was an MTV article put out that same day and it unfairly got attention when it wasn't worth reading. I had been working on my letter for two weeks that day and I finished, uploaded it, and then SAW the new article by MTV. It was a really, really strange moment. To this day if you search for that letter to Eddie Van Halen, (search "van halen open letter") my article still comes up near the top. My article is cohesive and informed. MTV's is without direction or basis and completely uninformed and inaccurate as to critical details and dates and involvement in Van Halen. They claimed VH3 had DLR in 1996. VH3 of cource was Gary Cherone in 1998. MTVs article was a testament to being up to one's eye balls in ignorance. I mentioned in my letter that old song demos could be released or re-made but re-makes would still resonate new sounds, and I highly encouraged Eddie to use some of these old demos that are so great and 99 percent of fans hadn't heard. I did talk to a few radio station DJs about several possibilities involving Van Halen. I told them I thought (long before it was announced) that Eddie was probably going to use old demos. One reason I thought this was YouTube removed a couple of my videos that were for unreleased original songs; for one song that ultimately DID end up on the new album, "Put Out The Lights" or now "Beats Workin' ". I was going "huh? This is not even copy written! Why are you removing this?!?!?" So I thought "Put Out The Lights" was going to be redone which it was, as "Beats Workin' " but I also thought "Honolulu Baby" would make the album possibly but it didn't. I still don't know why it was taken down.
We will individually review the other twelve songs after the opener, "Tattoo," with particular emphasis on the unrecognizable tracks from "A Different Kind Of Truth" but first here is a synopsis of exactly which songs are re-used from old demos and which are new or unrecognizable and for those old demos the name of the demo a song stems from is identified.
"She's The Woman" is the same song people heard at "Cafe Wha" that was a "new/old song". It is the same song we heard years ago, musically with a few changes to the lyrics. Here are the four versions I have, set to two videos: versions 1 and 2. and versions 3 and 4. There is wah used in this song, unlike the old versions, and there is no cow bell in this version unlike some of the older versions. Now the lyrics say "this song ain't dirty it's really just the way we sing it.... She's The Woman" which is new and the chorus is sung different than before. This song was, back in the day, THE song that opened everyone's eyes and ears in the band about Michael Anthony's strong background lyrics. It still WORKS GREAT with Wolfgang Van Halen as the replacement, main, background vocalist. The original song used the main riff of "Mean Street" which ended up on "Fair Warning" in 1981. The same key is played throughout the solo today so it is reminiscent of "Mean Street" but it is entirely differently played.
"You And Your Blues" begins with a very familiar sounding riff to Van Halen fans and that is due to the fact that it uses the same chords from "The One I Want" from Van Halen 3. I think this song was left over from the sessions that have never made the light of day after Van Halen 3 album and tour and the production sessions that have never been heard... The first lines to the song reference Jimi Hendrix and Elvis with the lyric "ain't no red house over yonder" a la Jimi, and "Midnight Train To Georgia" is an indirect reference to Gladys Knight & The Pips' song and, because it sounds like the lyric, Elvis Presley's well known favorite song "Rainy Night In Georgia" (Conway Twitty's version.) Roth knows how to say one thing that sounds like another, for sure. Then there is the lyric in the bridge of "communication break down" a la Led Zeppelin "your nineteenth nervous breakdown" as penned by the Stones. The bridge and chorus makes me believe this song will be a release. It sounds like ROTH'd up to the MAX. It reminds me of "The One I Want" again in the solo with the wah. Part of the bridge has a guitar riff heard when you hear the lyric "watching someone reinvent..." that was first used in "Josephina", again from Van Halen 3. The second verse mentions Eric Clapton and Robert Johnson with "Ain't Goin' Down to No Crossroads" and then the great Elmore James is referred to in "Ain't Gonna Dust My Broom". Then the "Evil Woman" reference brings me back to Jeff Lynne from ELO who is so missed. If you don't know who even one of these names refers to, don't feel bad, but look them up. You won't be disappointed. These are basically the names of those forgotten in Guitar Rock history (Johnson and James) and those remembered. (self explanatory) At the end of this song it sounds like Eddie is using a Sitar which was done on VH3 so it would make sense if my belief this were left over from Van Halen 3 is acknowledged.
"China Town" is the first song that feels like that heavy as hell song you wanted forever out of Van Halen with David Lee Roth, like it could have been played at the end of "1984" after "Girl Gone Bad" and "House Of Pain". The song begins with a very oriental toned fury of two handed technique delivered like you never heard Van Halen before because of the oriental flavor. Again Eddie uses plenty of wah in "China Town." Lyrics begin "headless body in a topless bar"... You can almost see the Yakuza of China or the Bozos of Japan, the motorcycle gangs (I know - CHINA town) after that first line. The song goes on to explain this takes place in Chinatown, and it describes the common perils and happen stance in any typical Chinatown setting, from gangs to stores, restaurants and sights.
"Blood And Fire" is clearly "Ripley" from 1984, an unreleased instrumental from the album production then, that was heard in "The Wild Life" TV movie and on the soundtrack temporarily sold, pirated to this day. The lyrics are newly added and the song remains the heart of what it was; this became a bit of a viral video over the past couple years to Van Halen fans. It wasn't new, as mentioned, but it was so warmly received and commented on at YouTube that I don't think it was possible to ignore for Edward. Everyone wanted this song and "Big Trouble" ("Big River") recorded for this album, out of the old demos, first and foremost. That seemed unanimous watching people comment for months leading up to the release of "A Different Kind Of Truth". So what do the lyrics to "Blood And Fire" mean? One common thread of David Lee Roth penned songs is the ambiguity, and occasional duality implied when reading between the lines. This song is a perfect example of just that. It seems like Dave is referring to "coming back" to the crowd of fans. It is a great song, with a sweet sounding chorus, and I think it's expected to be a release. I am not trying to hear any Van Halen 3 in "A Different Kind Of Truth" but it makes sense that the sounds you hear on these two albums are similar. The guitar solo seems to be reminiscent of "The One I Want" from Van Halen 3. Actually, "The One I Want" seems a lot better to me today, since "A Different Kind Of Truth" was released. It already was one of my favorites from that album.
"Bullethead" I remember first hearing in the mid 80s on a record owned by my friend Steve Stippich that was from 1977 called "Rules Are For Fools" which was an ACETATE LP. It was supposedly one of a couple hundred produced. It was really, really cool. I slowly recouped all the tracks and much more after losing my copy of "Rules Are For Fools." "Bullethead" was my favorite unreleased song on it at the time. I thought about what I thought was my own bullet head at the time and laughed at the song. Hey, good music should make you laugh sometimes. This did. Now the song has new lyrics and the music is largely the same with more content added to the song, but all the original parts of the song are still musically there, basically. Since the groove is the same as ever it makes this "sound like old Van Halen" which it IS. The title of "A Different Kind Of Truth" came from new lyrics on "Bullethead" when Dave sings the chorus one line is "Got a Different Kind Of Truth".
"As Is" begins with a count in by Alex Van Halen that has the potential to be a spot for something funny to be yelled in concert. It starts with Reverend Al calling out "1,2,3,4. ar ar ar ar" or as someone pointed out, it could be "1,2,3,4,F&%#,Sam,Ha,Gar" which I can see being mentioned in concert. After a layered intro by the whole band Edward cuts loose in a style reminiscent of three songs: the "Solo With Jan Hammer" from the Les Paul 80th Birthday show (I know people say "oh that was 'Dirty Water Dog' " THAT was on Saturday Night Live! 'Common misconception) and the other songs it reminds me of are "Loss Of Control" from Women and Children First and of course, a little like "Hot For Teacher" from 1984; relentless and he sounds like he is "sped up". Uncharacteristically the guitar solo starts early in this song. Usually you have the guitar solo a little over half way through the song. The break where all you hear is guitar and then the VH3 sounding "thud thud thud" of guitar, bass, drums together just before Edward launches into his clean sounding guitar, sounds like "Fire In The Hole," again from VH3.The clean sounding guitar that follows and David Lee Roth's signature spoken rhymes reminds me of two things; what "Finish What Ya Started" might have sounded like with David on vocals, and quite frankly, JERRY REED. Yes, the late, great Jerry Reed, country chicken pickin' fool who could just fly on guitar like nobody else can. Jerry Reed is one of the most incredible talents on guitar and it is a shame he is only thought of for "Smokey And The Bandit" because he had a style that is very similar to David Lee Roth in his delivery of vocals, rhythm, rhyme, the blue grass love and love of blues rock that was a trait of Jerry Reed is a trait I've always seen in David Lee Roth and to wit, on guitar, Jerry had FIRE like Edward. Next time you listen to this and hear David Lee Roth say the following words I want you to think back to Jerry Reed: "Unspoiled by progress. 'As Is' is how I pull through. It's not who you squeeze but who returns to squeeze you, no DOUBT! Love 'em all I say. Let cupid sort em out." See what I mean? That whole diddy sounds to me JUST like Jerry Reed. The reference to "love the craft or love the buck" is wicked as hell.
"Honeybabysweetiedoll" is my favorite song on "A Different Kind Of Truth." The lyrics about soccer moms is appropriate for 2012 and it's nice to see an aging rocker not talk about "girls" like Gene Simmons does still. A lot of the words are lost unless you read them. Basically he's warm for her form. That's all that matters. You have to hear it to appreciate "Honeybabysweetiedoll" and see how incredibly awesome it is. You drive with this song on? It will make you feel like flying down the highway at 150 because this is one bad ass song with the sound any Van Halen fan will love no matter what. It has a main riff in it that sounds like a version of "Outta Love Again" off Van Halen II as well as sounding closer to Carlos Santana in the outro on "Black Magic Woman". The bridge and solo sound a lot more like "Me Wise Magic" than any Van Halen songs since, which has always disappointed me because I wanted that to be the signature sound of the band going forward but it changed. David Lee Roth's dog, who you can see in the "Tattoo" video has a role in this song, as he barks a couple lines during the outro. You find yourself picking this song first when you put the disc on, or play your iPod or jump in your SUV. You have to put this one on first. I would have voted for this to be the first song on the album and probably the first release. It would have made mainstream truly say "wow, old Van Halen is back!"; unlike the response coolly put forth by mainstream, to Tattoo.
"The Trouble with Never" has the sound and hook that will probably make it a single. The delivery of the verses remind me of "Crosstown Traffic" in the tempo and delivery of each line of the lyrics, it's almost a dead match. Again Edward Van Halen uses the wah a lot in this song. Again the guitar solo is early in the song, and after the solo David Lee Roth gets the chance to banter. "Selective Amnesia" is the subject of that banter and it appears this break in the song will be a signature moment of David Lee Roth's live rap attack. May 2012 notation: I was right on the money. David Lee Roth says that "The Trouble with Never" IS, in fact, about Jimi Hendrix. "Crosstown Traffic" was originally done by Jimi Hendrix. The start of the song, sounds like "Crosstown Traffic" begins and that part is repeated in the song. Then there is the delivery of the verses. Dave says "I know you never thought about it but...." and this sounds directly like verse delivery in "Crosstown Traffic".
"Outta Space" is "Let's Get Rockin' " from 1977. David Lee Roth changed the lyrics to be about the Earth being "full" and that visitors should go home. The lyrics are obviously re-worked as on all. Roth refers to "counter blast" which is a song title from the under-appreciated "DLR Band" effort from 1998. Check it out if you haven't. 'Wonderful album with low sales, that makes zero sense, Roth Army! It's interesting how Edward Van Halen left in the guitar run from the original bridge to this song that became included in "Hot For Teacher" from 1984. Fans will presume it was in reference to "Hot For Teacher" immediately.
"Stay Frosty" is a REAL, legitimate BLUES ROCK song. I always hate when people inaccurately use that term like when they say "When It's Love" is a blues song. It is? No, it's not. "Stay Frosty" is blues rock at it's finest, period. This song will HAVE TO BE A RELEASE. Blues rock appeals to almost everyone; and I think it appeals to 100 percent of rock and roll fans. Everyone likes Stevie Ray Vaughn, for instance. Who doesn't like at least some Stevie Ray Vaughn songs? Nobody red blooded doesn't like Vaughn. It's in your blood. They say the only American original art form is Jazz music; I add that blues rock is an American invention. THIS SONG (albeit by two gents from Amsterdam originally, they are Americans) is the quintessential song from this album that will be remembered FOREVER; but it has to be released first. Don't blink, don't cringe, don't think about it; JUST DO IT. In "Stay Frosty" the acoustic guitar is obviously reminiscent of "Ice Cream Man". I like the "Uh, Uh, Uh" Dave uses because those utterances are as powerful as any use of the English language on this album. The story is about a Buddhist monk meeting David Lee Roth who says "don't want 'em to get your goat, don't show 'em where it's at" which are good thoughts to live by. (James) He says he "journeyed to the east and uh struggled to stay afloat and a solitary Buddhist monk threw me a rope. He looked me in the eye and said 'don't make me say this twice. If you wanna be a monk you've gotta cook a lotta rice' " which completely cracked me up the first time I heard it! The solo first appeared on CSI which I will always remember, and it segues into the acoustic section again before rocking out to an outro as complete as the solo. It is interlaced with the conventional blues rock progression.
"Big River" is a remake of "Big Trouble" and the chorus feels like David Lee Roth's bluegrass experience has influenced its sound. This is one song, along with "Ripley" that it seemed Van Halen fans unanimously crossed their fingers hoping would appear on "A Different Kind Of Truth" and they are glad to see it a reality. Of all seven recognizable demos this and "She's The Woman" had original demos that were as good and quality versions as these new versions. Those were GREAT demos that somehow didn't get used. The rest WERE improved upon.
"Beats Workin' " is a remake of the demo "Put Out The Lights" but has a couple references that are very interesting to note. The beginning and end of the song has an introduction and outro totally foreign to the rest of the song and it is the chords used in "Black Sabbath" the song, by Black Sabbath. Also I think this song is a stab at Sammy Hagar. The chorus has the lyrics "Red Hot, baby like it or not" and "Red Hot" is the name of a Sammy Hagar re-issued album of 1978 live songs. He is known of course as the "Red Rocker" and I did not catch this subtlety the first time through listening to this album. At first listen the name of this song "Beats Workin' " sounds like they are saying there is an alternative to working that is better than working, but I notice David Lee Roth's ambiguity and finger prints on nearly every verse of every song on this album. I think the stab at Sammy Hagar is that the BEAT is WORKING ("baby!") and Van Halen feels in their eyes that the beat and overall groove is better. At the end of the song is what seems like a note that eludes to the beginning of Van Halen 1. The car horns that begin and slow down to a halt to start "Runnin' With The Devil" are emulated by Eddie Van Halen's distinct dive bomb.
Overall "A Different Kind Of Truth" brings us back to Van Halen with David Lee Roth is not just an experiment, or a pre-destined failure as some have predicted. So much for the fight. The band is back. Eddie isn't playing outside Van Halen at all, which is good news for the band. The periods of time when Ed did not play outside Van Halen were 1978 to 1981 and basically 1986 to 1996. I don't know that there is a direct correlation between the two but it makes sense, as you see. Van Halen 1 to Fair Warning and 5150 to Best Of Vol. I. were some really stable times! (sorry Hagar haters, it was stability as a band, even if you hated it; fact.) There is no indication Eddie is going to be playing outside the band. That much is certain. "A Different Kind Of Truth" is the music industry's chance to repair itself, as we're hanging by a thread, about to fall back into the abyss of a hip hop only world.
I say this album gets a 9.5/10. This a 4 star, quality production up to par with 1984. Only Van Halen 1 and Fair Warning are slightly better in my book, overall. This album is much more exciting to listen to than any other Van Halen albums at this time. At this time it's easily getting my most attention.
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