When a band releases its 12th studio album after an absence of 14 years, it's only natural to view the record with an amount of suspicion. Add to that the seemingly fashionable move of keeping it in the family (Jason Bonham did fill his fathers shoes for Led Zep), and digging up abandoned ideas from your heyday (R.E.M. resurrecting songs like 'Bad Day'), you're left with a band satisfying the fans but not really looking to move past their autopilot setting. However, Van Halen has ticked those boxes while also defying the odds to create an album as good as any in their back catalogue.
In many ways, A Different Kind Of Truth feels like Eddie passing the torch to his son Wolfgang and not in an overly sentimental way. It sounds like it's been created in a garage by a bunch of 17 year olds with the optimism of youth, rather than by rock royalty. Lead single 'Tattoo' is the perfect example, with a sense of fun, loud solos and rebellion ("Uncle Danny had a gold tattoo, he fought for the unions, some of us still do."). It's by no means the strongest of the 13 songs here but it makes it clear that Van Halen haven't re-invented their sound, they've just re-invigorated it.
With 19-year-old Wolfgang tackling bass duties in his first studio recording with the band, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the charm of the material would actually lie more with the reconciled pairing of Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth. Actually, it's the solid rhythm section that drives much of the record; one example is 'Bullethead', which rattles along like a freight train. This reliance upon solid songwriting rather than just the window dressing of Eddie's mercurial solos (although they're also here to give the signature Van Halen sound) can be traced back to the origins of the material.
At least 5 of the songs date back to 1976 and although lyrics and arrangements have changed, they bear more than a passing resemblance to the original ideas that fuelled them. It's that link with the past that helps A Different Kind Of Truth to sound like a continuation rather than an afterthought. It's built from the same ideas and from the same perspective as their classic albums, it's not written by a celebrity struggling to deal with success, it's written in part by Eddie Van Halen when he was playing to audiences in their hundreds rather than thousands.
As the album thunders into its final minutes the highlight of the set 'Stay Frosty' reveals itself. Initially a blues jam that flourishes into a frenetic stadium sized rocker, Roth's weathered voice reminds you why Van Halen were so much fun in the first place. While A Different Kind Of Truth owes a debt to the past, it doesn't sound dated, as it chooses not to mimic the synthesisers that bogged the band down in the eighties. Rather than a comeback record, Van Halen have just picked up where they left off and carried on without a thought. It's admirable too that in doing so, they haven't tarnished the memories that their fans hold so dearly.