A FEW WORDS ON VAN HALEN’S TRIUMPHANT(?) RETURN…

I’m a huge Van Halen fan. I don’t talk about them often, because let’s face it – aside from a borderline-disastrous reunion with Sammy Hagar in ’04, and a tour with Roth in ’07-’08, the band has been less active than the surviving guy from Milli Vanilli’s manager. In short, it’s been tough being a Van Halen fan these past 14 years (and I actually liked parts of Van Halen 3). I’ve already shared my thoughts on who I feel is the group’s best singer in the long run, as well as my opinion of Eddie Van Halen in the wake of shit-canning original bassist Michael Anthony in favor of his teenaged son.

But after over a decade of being jerked around, I’ll take what I can get; at this point, I’d still have been excited even if they brought Gary Cherone back. So if it means getting new music from these guys, I’ll deal with the awkward site of a 20-yr-old kid jamming with a bunch of dudes in their 50s, knowing that at least Chickenfoot is putting money in Michael Anthony’s pocket (he deserves it).

My biggest fear with a full-on Roth reunion (new album ‘n all), is that the band would regress back to the more one-dimensional, party rock vibe that they did nearly exclusively during the Roth era. I love all periods of the band, but they didn’t exactly grow that much with Roth at the helm – who always compensated for his so-so vocal range and limited lyrical abilities with his over-the-top persona and wild stage antics. I feared that, though Roth’s vocals remain in surprisingly good shape, anything “new” the band does with him would seem trite and lightweight compared to the leaps and bounds the band achieved with Hagar (though they only did four albums with him, no two sound identical). It should be noted, however, that a relatively modern, forward-thinking Van Halen with Roth did exist to some extent, in the two songs they cut for 1996’s Best Of Volume I release. (“Can’t Get This Stuff No More” was largely forgettable, but “Me Wise Magic” was a winner.) Despite Roth back at the mic, musically the songs still sounded like a natural progression from their previous album Balance.

And so after being shrouded in secrecy, Van Halen 4.0’s new album, A Different Kind of Truth, is suddenly right around the corner (Feb. 7), but so far, the two songs I’ve heard have done nothing to absolve my fears:

Take first single “Tattoo,” which is simply a reworking of a 1978 song the band had called “Down In Flames,” originally intended (supposedly) for the Van Halen II album. Then there’s “She’s the Woman,” the other “new” song the band had debuted at their well-received club date in NYC last week. Only problem with that one? It’s a demo the band had kicking around since 1976 or so.

While I’ll still be excited for this album no matter what (both songs seem decent, if “Tattoo” sounds a bit stiff), it only leads me to wonder how many other “new” songs on this album are simply retooled demos and ideas from their heyday? So far it’s the sound of a band retreating, a band playing it safe by hopping in a time machine; you can knock something like Van Halen 3 all you want (an album that suffered from weak production more than anything, in my opinion), but at least they tried going onwards and upwards, like with the borderline-proggy single “Without You” or the Peter Gabriel-esque “Once.”

Give me something new guys, not just reheated scraps. But as always is the case with VH, I’ll take what I can get.

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