A Different Kind of Truth
A Different Kind of Truth is so unexpectedly driving, so utterly animated, and so unabashedly Van Halen it may actually make this band relevant again. At the very least, it will remind humankind how VH managed to conquer turntables and car stereos back when Apple Computers was considered a bigger joke than Scott Baio’s career. That is to say, this album is a two-sided coin of frisky heavy metal swing and keen pop sensibility that basically cloaks the median age of its creators (which is somewhere in the hundreds, I’m guessing).
Perhaps credit should go to Truth co-producer John Shanks, who counts amongst his knob-fiddling credentials such fresh, dewy starlets as Hilary Duff, Ashlee Simpson, Diana DeGarmo, and Kelly Clarkson. Maybe he carried/transmitted all their spunk to Van Halen like an airborne disease. Then again, consider the material on display itself: a number of the songs on A Different Kind of Truth have been reconstructed from unpolished b-sides dating back to this legendary group’s nascent years. Of course Van Halen reclaim their macho ’70s strut on “She’s The Woman”—it’s been locked away in a vault since then. Lazy? Maybe a smidge, but remember the last time VH tried to adapt to the times? Gary Cherone was involved, and the results hurt us all.
Only one front man in the galaxy could sell with any shred of honesty gimmick lyrics like “headless body in a topless bar!” and “you wanna be a monk, you gotta cook a lot of rice!”—walking orgasm David Lee Roth, who’s back on record with Van Halen after several millennia of drama. Roth’s vocal range plateaued long ago, but the guy can still coo, screech, and growl unlike any other pervert on the scene. He feigns some singing here and there, too, and that’s really all these bouncy sleaze nuggets need (apart from a touch of that backup vocal cotton candy Michael Anthony used to provide, recreated here to an acceptable degree).
The real surprise on A Different Kind of Truth concerns the Ferrari-like tempos the Van Halens achieve throughout the album. Guitar god Eddie and his rock solid drumming brother Alex haven’t lost their speedy synergy; the boys careen through a dense thicket of riffing on “China Town,” offer up an engine-revving classic in “Bullethead,” and remind you they invented the fractured hard rock template Mötley Crüe rode to infamy with “As Is” and “Outer Space.” The group’s noob, twenty-something bassist Wolfgang Van Halen (son of Eddie), not only keeps up with his elders but plays such buttery rhythms you’ll forget nepotism is the only thing keeping him from being stuck at home rockin’ his hairy nutsack.
And so it comes to pass: Van Halen loosen their Dockers and decide it is once again time for our nation to have a beer-soaked party featuring dogs in Hawaiian shirts and dump trucks full of double entendres. Yes, Eddie’s six string sorcery will make your jaw slack. Yes, “Diamond” Dave’s lyrics will make you roll your eyes as often as they make you smile. Yes, A Different Kind of Truth makes up for Van Halen III and every year these guys spent clawing each other in the press. A legitimately great Van Halen album in 2012? Maybe the world really is ending.
FINAL SCORE: Four headless bodies at a topless bar (out of four).
Van Halen released their new single “Tattoo” today. It’s not very good, but I don’t think anyone was expecting “Jump Part Two.” Well, maybe some people were, but those people probably wear mullets in a sixty-five percent non-ironic capacity. Before you come down on me, let’s get one thing straight: I actually liked “Me Wise Magic” and “Can’t Get This Stuff No More” when they first danced upon my ears in 1996. Am I still bitter about that year’s Roth reunion fizzling out over an incident involving Beck Hansen? Maybe.
The real question is do I still think Eddie Van Halen is the “King of the Douchebags?” I branded him as such in 2009 after it was revealed his son Wolfgang would be substituting for Michael Anthony in Guitar Hero. I still vehemently disagree with that decision, but I’m not sure I’d crown EVH the supreme douche of the universe if it had just happened last week. The guy was just trying to make his son feel included. Honestly, I feel worse about labeling Wolfgang a “chubby little pud” in the aforementioned blog post, because the kid had only been in the public eye for about a nanosecond. Sorry, Wolf-O, I was just lashing out. I didn’t mean to hurt you.
As for dubbing David Lee Roth the “Crazy Geriatric Chicken Man,” well, there are some things a guy just has to stand by, right or wrong. Am I angry because it sounds like Diamond Dave is saying “I’ve got Elvis on my elbow” in the opening verse of “Tattoo” and that lyric is one pube away from retroactively erasing every cool phrase he sang in the 1980s? Maybe.
Van Halen’s latest album, A Different Kind of Truth, drops on February 7th. I’m interested to hear it despite the blandness of “Tattoo” because, as you may have guessed, I’m old. I can remember a time ice ages ago when Van Halen was still a legitimate, exciting force in music. That they’ve returned at all is somewhat remarkable. This new disc could offer something wondrous, however fleeting. Then again, to steal a quote from Socrates, I wouldn’t be surprised if the fucking thing sucked from start to finish. At least it’ll afford me a curious distraction from the normal banality of life that week (oh, how the blogger is tortured).
“So how are you?” I ask Danny as we take our seats at Manhattan’s Great Jones Cafe, home of the Rotten Apple’s best pulled pork sandwich.
“How do you think I am?” he says with a smirk.
My dinner companion could be making reference to several aspects of his vastly interesting life, but in this moment we both know exactly why he’s radiating. Twenty-four hours prior, Danny (who, with his thick glasses and sandy blonde hair, bears passing resemblance to Peter Billingsly) was one of the chosen few allowed inside Cafe Wha? to witness Van Halen’s exclusive 2012 tour launch performance. Fans and journalists came from all corners of the Northeast to see the ultimate ’80s party rock band play their first club gig in decades, but Danny Young was the only VH disciple to fly in from the exotic land of Norway.
“One guy in line outside said, ‘Oh, I rode the subway here.’ Another guy said, ‘I flew here from Philly.’ Yeah, okay,” Danny tells me in a playfully dismissive tone. “They couldn’t believe how far I had come. They called me ‘Norway’ for the rest of the night. ‘Hey, what did Norway think of that?’”
Certainly the most dyed-in-the-wool Van Halen fan I currently know, a connection at Universal Records London got Danny on the über-exclusive guest list. I didn’t ask, but I’m fairly certain this connection was forged somehow through the eight years Danny spent drumming for Gluecifer. Gluecifer gets my vote for best hard rock band happening in the late nineties/early aughts—on Norwegian shores or any other. They never gained much traction here in the States, but neither did the majority of their Scandinavian contemporaries (Turbonegro, the Hellacopters, et al). America at that time was preoccupied with less testicular outfits such as Jimmy Eat World and Sum 41. It is as it was, the Pope might say.
This Cafe Wha? deal was the first time Danny had ever seen his favorite band in the world, and he was was right up front, stage right, close enough to taste Diamond Dave’s sweat. By all accounts, it was an amazing show. Wolfgang Van Halen, Eddie VH’s twenty-something son who has controversially replaced original bassist Michael Anthony in the reunited Halen lineup, “held it down” and “gave it his all.” Dave Lee Roth’s vocals were low in the mix from where Danny stood but still sounded great. The only letdown was Alex Van Halen’s abnormally small drum kit.
“It was about one-fifth the size of what he normally plays with,” Danny says, making appropriate hand gestures to articulate just how tiny these drums were. “He had to play the beginning of ‘Dance The Night Away’ on the pipes above him. Dave walked over with the mic and stuck it over him.”
The influence of Alex Van Halen on Danny’s own style is discernable—both have rock solid meter and a knack for smartly complimenting whatever the guitars are doing—but there are, of course, other percussionists the man counts as heroes. John Bohnam. Joey Kramer. Peter Criss (the early stuff, before he became “a pussy wrist”). Ginger Baker. A clear pattern is emerging.
“I’ve always been a classic rock guy. The other guys in Gluecifer, they were all into punk—I never listened to that stuff, aside from the Ramones, who weren’t really a punk band, and Motörhead.”
This is reflected in Danny’s current band, Smoke Mohawk, which he started a couple years back with Gluecifer guitarist Raldo Useless. Classic rock is the only applicable genre term you could apply to the etherel take on Grand Funk they present on their debut album, The Dogs Are Turning Red. The distilled rage and chest-thumping bravado that was Gluecifer’s calling card is all but absent. I wonder if Danny’s aversion to punk or outward love of Van Halen caused any friction in his former band.
“No, but it was something I always joked about with Jon [Average, Gluecifer bassist]. He hated being called a musician. He didn’t want to think of himself that way. Total punk. So I’d tease him, ‘Oh, you’re a big time musician, you know,’ and he’d get so mad.”
Our conversation turns to the individual personalities of Gluecifer. As a fan, I’m captivated to hear this stuff. Some of it’s funny, some of it’s really disheartening. I learn that one member locked himself in his Manhattan hotel room for the entire the weekend of the band’s final show here in 2005, emerging only to take the stage. Danny still seems perplexed by this behavior.
“Maybe he was sad that the band was breaking up,” I suggest.
“Huh,” Danny responds, an expression on his face as if a cloud has lifted. “I never even considered that. I was sad too—on the cab ride to the airport afterwards, I remember feeling sentimental while I was texting with the other guys—but I had other things going on in my life. I was going to school in Los Angeles, I had just joined a band in Germany…yeah, maybe he was sad about the breakup.”
A flurry of fanboy questions shoot forth from my mouth.
“What of Gluecifer’s canon are you most proud of?”
“Yeah, your records.”
“Oh, Automatic Thrill, by far. That was our best and hardest record. I would have liked to see what we could have done after that. But when two guys in the band don’t want to go forward…”
“Is there anything you guys recorded that you’d go back and change?”
“I never thought about that…I guess maybe make some [material] more commercial, but that’s what we were trying to do anyway. So, I don’t know.”
“What’s the first thing you recorded with Gluecifer?”
“A seven inch called ‘Lard Ass Hagen.’”
“Fuck yeah, that’s a great song.”
“The guys weren’t too happy with how those songs sounded. That, ‘Mano A Mano’—we recorded those two seven inches together. I thought it sounded good, but they didn’t like it so much. I can’t remember if ‘Lard Ass’…was that actually the flip side to ‘Mano A Mano?’”
“No, ‘Mano A Mano’ was its own a-side with something else on the flip side.”
“Ah, okay. Yes.”
“Was that your real life dog in the ‘Losing End’ video?”
Danny laughs hard at this question, tilting his head back. Turns out the German Shepard who fetched his drum stick in the otherwise “serious” video was a hired hand. This makes me just as sad as the hotel story. I wanted to believe Danny Young owned that dog.
Around this time, Danny’s phone rings. It’s a member of Monster Magnet. They’re planning a meetup tomorrow before Danny flies back to Oslo. As they chat, I flip through my phone’s contact list. I have a member of GWAR’s number, but only because I interviewed him for a project some time last year. He’s not going to call me up ever and suggest we drive out to Red Bank, New Jersey to get funky.
“Who’s the most famous person you’ve ever met?” I ask Danny, the last question of the night I get off before everything becomes “off the record.”
“Dolly Parton. Her European tour manager cut her teeth managing Gluecifer. Dolly was playing somewhere, and I went. I love ‘Jolene,’ but I’m not some superfan…I went backstage anyway. We were introduced, and the manager said, ‘Danny’s a musician.’ [ADOPTS EERILY ACCURATE EFFEMINATE SOUTHERN VOICE] ‘Oh, d’ya play guh-tar and sing?’ [REGULAR VOICE] ‘No, I’m a drummer.’ [DOLLY IMPRESSION] ‘Oh, you could play with us!’ Haha, can you imagine that?”
For a moment, I do imagine the sneering blonde who pounded out “Lard Ass Hagen” holding a pair of brushes and lightly tapping out a beat behind our nation’s most buxom country treasure. It seems only slightly less ludicrous than flying eight hours from Norway on a Thursday to see the biggest heavy metal band of the Reagan Era perform in a shoebox-size tourist trap Bob Dylan made famous before anyone knew what a David Lee Roth was. Then I remember just moments ago I felt depression when I learned a dog in a music video wasn’t “real,” and life in general seems pretty funny on both sides of the coin.
For the benefit of all foodie completists reading this, yes, I had the pulled pork sandwich. Danny had the chiliburger. Both were deemed “fuckin’ great.”