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CD: Van Halen’s ‘A Different Kind of Truth’ is surprisingly decent

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Van Halen
A Different Kind of Truth
Three stars

“Tattoo,” the opening track on Van Halen’s A Different Kind of Truth, is so flat-out terrible, it makes you wonder: Has David Lee Roth returned for his first Van Halen album in 28 years just to deliver awkward yelping and cringe-inducing lyrics over a mediocre riff? Well, yes, but only for one song. Truth turns out to be much better than “Tattoo” would indicate.

The album offers a potent rush of nostalgia; many of the songs are based on unfinished 1970s demos, and songs like “The Trouble With Never” and “Big River” effectively recall the heights of the Roth era with catchy vintage riffs and memorable melodies. But it also results in “Stay Frosty,” a painful effort to update the band’s classic blues cover “Ice Cream Man.” The album’s best track, “Blood and Fire,” sounds so much like a Sammy Hagar-era power ballad, it’s hard not to imagine Hagar singing it.

Still, Eddie Van Halen’s guitar-playing is as sharp and vibrant as Roth’s vocals are strained and flat, and Eddie’s son Wolfgang adequately handles the bass parts in Michael Anthony’s absence. That Truth isn’t an embarrassment is a relief; that it’s pretty good at times is a pleasant surprise.

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