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Album review

With ‘Truth,’ Van Halen returns, surprisingly rejuvenated

CHARLES SYKES/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Van Halen members David Lee Roth (left) and Eddie Van Halen at a NewYork show last month.

Reunions of classic rock bands are, often justifiably, met with skepticism and very low expectations.

That pre-release pessimism sometimes means positive reactions are overblown when the results aren’t a complete travesty, retroactively diminishing the group’s glory days.

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But the initial surprise of how enjoyable Van Halen’s reunion effort “A Different Kind of Truth’’ is, vis-a-vis expectations, gives way to a simple appreciation of how enjoyable it is, period.

Out tomorrow, “Truth’’ is the group’s first full-length album with original frontman David Lee Roth since “1984’’ and features namesake guitarist Eddie Van Halen’s son Wolfgang on bass. (Van Halen: now with even more Van Halen!) It isn’t perfect, but it’s far better than it needed to be to satisfy the requirements of a round of nostalgic cash-grabbing. And it’s shockingly cohesive for a group of clashing personalities lugging a tour bus worth of baggage.

Full of Eddie’s muscular riffage and eruptive solos and Roth’s smarmy charm, “Truth’’ doesn’t try to reinvent the band’s signature sound. It didn’t need to, as Roth and the Van Halens - including drummer Alex - have openly stated that its 13 tracks were partially composed from bits and bobs of unreleased material from the ’70s.


Although the album begins limply with the plodding first single, “Tattoo,’’ it picks up steam and real brawn quickly with the spiraling rhythms and locomotive heft of “She’s the Woman,’’ the swaggering “You and Your Blues’’ (featuring Van Halen’s irresistibly serrated licks), and the furious double-timer “China Town.’’

Roth, one of the crown princes of rock ’n’ roll jibber-jabber, is in mostly good form, spewing forth his nonsense, propaganda, and jive talk with a mischievous vigor. “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor/ Rich is better, totally better’’ he yelps on the restless “As Is.’’

“Truth’’ isn’t a completely clean getaway, however. Producer John Shanks - who has worked with everyone from Miley Cyrus to Keith Urban to Bon Jovi - sometimes mixes Eddie’s guitar curiously low, and there’s a vacuum-sealed tightness to the sound. Several songs want for the high harmony parts of founding bassist Michael Anthony. And Roth’s corny-Catskills-comic-meets-slithery-leather-pant-encased-rock-god shtick can definitely wander into irritating territory that will likely turn off the casually curious, not to mention fans who preferred second VH singer Sammy Hagar.

At one point, Roth winks at all involved and the band’s own past when he growls, “Told you I was coming back/ Say you missed me, say it like you mean it.’’ As shocked as we are, we did, and we do; if this is Van Halen’s “Truth,’’ there’s no reason they shouldn’t stick to it.

Sarah Rodman can be reached at srodman@globe.com.
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