Van Halen cools down

By Jessica Leach, Muse Staff Writer

Van Halen releases their first album in 14 years, and this is it?

Granted, their efforts in the ‘90s with Van Halen III and Balance were sorted, too, but this could have been a big comeback for the band. With David Lee Roth back as lead vocalist, and Eddie Van Halen seemingly cleaned up from his drug-induced stupor that complicated tour plans a few years ago, this should have been the album that wowed us. I am wowed, but not in the way I hoped.

It’s more like, “Wow, this kind of sucks.”

Being a Van Halen fan, I know what they’re capable of accomplishing. A Different Kind of Truth doesn’t even come closing to reaching their potential. I think back to what they put out in the ‘80s, songs like “Hot for Teacher” and “Ice Cream Man,” and I can’t even fathom how this album came from the same band. Eddie still rocks on lead guitar, and he always will – he’s a prodigy, and people seem to forget how well he harnesses the power of technique. But other than that, and the fact that, for his age, David Lee Roth can still scream like a boss, the whole album just feels messy, and here’s why:

Van Halen is trying to appeal to too many generations at once. Most of the songs on the album sound like they were birthed from some weird relationship between Nickelback and Axl Rose. Therein lies the problem. Van Halen is attempting to modernize their sound, to not only appeal to the adults who listened to them faithfully as teenagers, but to also try to appeal to the teenagers today.  “Tattoo” – the first single and track from the album, reeks of that kind of desperation. The group fails at being catchy/radio-friendly in the midst of their own style, which makes the lyrics feel extra pedestrian, extra cliché and the chorus feel hokey and forced. Also, I think it’s very un-rock n’ roll of them to be bragging about tattoos so much. The song almost feels like an improvised parody of a has-been ‘80s rock/glam band that sings about their hair or, in this case, “sexy tattoos.”

There are those moments that are distinctly Van Halen, like when Eddie uses his famed finger tapping technique, the one he completely blew our minds with in “Eruption” at the age of 18, and some songs are slightly reminiscent of their older material (“Bullethead” totally sounds like “Mean Street” and the chorus of “She’s the Woman” will remind you of “I’m the One”). But these bits of nostalgia are the only aspects of the album that can fully capture your attention and intrigue… until you realize you’re just in the mood to put on their eponymous first album, or 1984, and forget that this one even happened.

If Van Halen recognized their audience better, their lyrics wouldn’t feel so elementary and out of place. But being an older rock musician is hard these days, especially when you’re competing in the same league as Bruce Springsteen (who never fails at putting out at least one good song every few years). For instance, just look at Guns N’ Roses, a band that gets more play at sporting events than any other. They dropped the ball completely with Chinese Democracy, their 2008 “comeback.” A Different Kind of Truth isn’t quite the failure that Chinese Democracy is, but it still won’t soar to any new heights.

In a way, Van Halen are old dogs trying to learn new tricks, but I think they’d be better as old dogs who are okay with being old. Van Halen is a band that is loved, after all. They’ll be on tour this year, stopping in Boston on March 11, and the crowd will be full of fans who swear by Van Halen’s music, the stuff they grew up on in the ‘80s. But it’s 2012 now, and it’s still rude to hog two lanes of traffic. So, Van Halen, what’s it going to be?

Get with the times or get out.

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