There’s nothing like a reunion album to elicit snickers from fans of all ages, and in most cases, the band works hard to earn that derision by attempting to update their sound or cash in on current trends. Van Halen, however, has somehow managed to avoid any temptation whatsoever to alter the formula. There’s no ill-advised rap interlude, no techno breakdowns, no acoustic ballads featuring the drummer on vocals, no guest spots from Jack Black or Dave Grohl. This is straight-up, big-riff, guitar-driven rock music, the undeniable return of Eddie Van Halen’s “brown sound” and Diamond Dave’s fully-erect personality. Listening to A Different Kind of Truth, you’d think rock music hadn’t changed a bit since 1978. Indeed, you can safely slide this onto your LP rack right next to 1984 (or better yet, Fair Warning) and pretend that nothing ever happened.
It helps, of course, that nearly half the album was actually conceived in the mid-70s (ancient demos exist for six of the 13 songs), including “Big River” and the inevitable liveset-closer “Beats Workin’,” two of the best throwbacks on the record. But even brand new songs like “China Town” and “As Is” successfully capture the swagger that made the band so magical in the first place. You miss Dave’s gloriously dumb lyrics? “Tattoo” has you covered. You’re dying for one of Eddie’s pyrotechnic guitar solos? There’s one on every track! You wither without Alex’s ride cymbal and double-bass-drum destruction? Wait’ll you hear “Outta Space.” How ’bout one of those classic spoken-word intervals? Try “The Trouble With Never.” Or an over-the-top blues workout? “Stay Frosty” is for you. I’m telling you, it’s all here. And give credit where credit is due: if every rock star were as intuitive as David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen about what their fans want, we wouldn’t spend so much time reading and writing mixed reviews. This definitely isn’t one. Van Halen’s new record is totally rad. Who says nothing stays the same?