Promoting his memoir last year, Sammy Hagar painted a harrowing portrait of Eddie Van Halen as a washed-up alcoholic who could barely hold onto his teeth, let alone his whammy bar. But it’s the tap-happy shredder who’s having the last laugh, because the most promising thing about the latest coming of Van Halen is that Hagar has no part in it.
David Lee Roth’s return to the fold isn’t exactly news. The singer reunited with the Van Halen brothers for a 2007–08 tour, and we’re still trying to shake the image of Diamond Dave riding a huge inflatable microphone across the stage. The threat of a new studio album hung over the entire spectacle and left us with the question: After the sappy power ballads of Van Hagar, could a new Van Roth record recapture the group’s swagger?
A Different Kind of Truth, Van Halen’s first with Roth since the benchmark 1984, comes surprisingly close. Impressive, considering the current lineup’s missing a crucial member—bassist Michael Anthony (he and Hagar joined forces with Joe Satriani in Chickenfoot) was replaced by Eddie’s son, Wolfgang. The foursome’s 12th album (and first of the 21st century) aims to return the arena vet to its Reagan-era apex.
Never mind that Roth’s vaudeville shtick is hopelessly hammy. “Love ’em all, I says / Let Cupid sort ’em out,” he says in the “Hot for Teacher”–like “As Is.” Would that be the Cupid smoking a cig on the cover of 1984? At least the new stuff won’t sound completely out of place lodged between “Runnin’ with the Devil” and “Panama.”