In 2007, Van Halen reunited with original singer David Lee Roth – who had infamously left the band near the peak of its global popularity, on April 1, 1985 – for the Van Halen 2007–2008 North American Tour. That tour added bassist Wolfgang Van Halen, the then 16-year-old son of guitarist Eddie Van Halen and actress Valerie Bertinelli, forcing out original bassist Michael Anthony, who was left to record and tour with Van Halen's second lead singer, Sammy Hagar. The Van Halen/David Lee Roth reunion tour, which lasted for 74 shows between September 2007 and June 2008, was the band's highest grossing tour in its thirty-year history, earning over $93 million.
In 2009, when asked about the possibility of recording a new album with David Lee Roth, Eddie Van Halen stated, "we might not record something new," citing a poor reaction to three new songs recorded with Van Halen's second singer, Sammy Hagar, for the 2004 compilation Best of Both Worlds. After Wolfgang Van Halen became enthusiastic about recording a new Van Halen album, Eddie Van Halen's opinion changed: "we’re doing this [album] for us."
Eddie, Wolfgang and Alex Van Halen started jam sessions at Eddie's 5150 Studios – minus David Lee Roth – three months after the tour's completion. During this time, Wolfgang began to listen to rough, early demos from Van Halen's extensive archive. After rediscovering these (generally) obscure, unreleased demos, Wolfgang selected numerous songs that he believed had potential, and then brought them to Alex and Eddie to jam, remold, and refine. The first such demo was "She's the Woman", a song from Van Halen's club days, originally demoed in the mid-1970s, which the Van Halens re-worked in August 2009. The demo was sent along with two other reworked tracks, "Let’s Get Rockin’" later renamed "Outta Space" and "Bullethead", to Roth, who enjoyed the songs and decided to join the project.
Wolfgang Van Halen’s original conception for the album was a collection of previously unreleased early tracks, reworked demos, and lesser-known, early, album cuts, (e.g. "Drop Dead Legs" and "Girl Gone Bad" from 1984.) Eventually, however, the band chose to record an original studio album, and ultimately tracked 35 songs – including reworked demos, new songs composed by Eddie, and "Stay Frosty" written by Roth and arranged by Wolfgang.
After much deliberation over whether to self-produce the album or choose a producer from a list that included Rick Rubin and Pat Leonard, Roth suggested John Shanks, whom he met at Henson Recording Studios. Shanks liked the first three songs, and then agreed to work on the album, working along with Wolfgang to pick the demos that would be developed into the album's tracks. While all of Van Halen's albums since 1984 had been produced inside 5150, David Lee Roth persuaded the band to work at Henson Recording Studios, where he had been recording for over a decade.
In mid-January 2011, the band moved into Henson studios with Shanks, staff engineer Martin Cooke, and engineer Paul David Hager. The band would work 12 hours a day, five days a week, working on the music during the afternoon and Roth coming in to sing at night. The instrumental tracks were done in three weeks, with the band playing live as they had had much rehearsal. Eddie declared that he felt relieved in relinquishing some of the production work to his son, with Wolfgang stating that "dad likes to think of me as some sort of leader now". The bassist was considered akin to a co-producer, frequently talking to Shanks, being consulted by his father on the musical direction, and developing the songs. Along with creating new bits, such as a new breakdown on "She's the Woman"—as the original ended up used on Fair Warning's (1981) "Mean Street"—and an arrangement for "Stay Frosty" outside the acoustic introduction, Wolfgang had some bass improvisations "stem[ming] from boredom" as he wanted to vary after so much rehearsing, such as the capo intro to "Chinatown".
By the end of March 2011, the band had returned to finish the record at 5150 with engineer Ross Hogarth. Most of the work at 5150 was for guitars and bass, as Eddie "couldn’t hear them at Henson the way I’m used to" and both him and Hogarth felt the attempts at mixing were not progressing due to sound quality. Eddie attributed this to the tape machines at Henson, stating that on that studio "everything ended up sounding like it had a sock over it", a problem that did not repeat when playing the tapes at Eddie's facility. The final mix took place over a period of six weeks in the summer of 2011. Each song would be mixed for an entire day, and in the next day it would be tweaked. Hogarth declared that because the process was done at a mixing console, "we couldn’t move on to the next song until a mix had been approved by everyone and could go off the desk." Hogarth started with the drums as he considered it the most important component, and then moved forward with the bass and guitar to finish a backing track, which would be complemented with multing (hiving off different sections of a given part to different tracks) and parallel compression. Then it was finished bringing in Roth’s vocals, backing vocals, and details like ad libs, screams and solos.
Hogarth aimed "to bring Ed’s guitar sound into the modern era, but maintaining all the DNA of the past." He suggested to Eddie that instead of doing again the guitar to the left speaker and the effects panned to the right, the guitar sound was split naturally instead of electronically using two guitar amplifiers placed far apart. The idea was to have a guitar sound "that was wide and mono, and not digital delay-driven, and it's what you hear on the record, with only a few overdubs—the classic Van Halen sound is not to have a rhythm guitar when he solos". A more complex structure was made for Wolfgang Van Halen's bass, as the band wanted "a bass sound that covered the whole spectrum, from high to low and clean to dirty", and up to eight microphones recorded his instrument. A multi-mic set-up was also employed for Alex Van Halen's drums, with most of the final drumming coming from overhead microphones Hogarth dubbed "press conference". Roth's vocals were all recorded at Henson, without compression.
The songs on A Different Kind of Truth were described by Roth as "a sort of collaboration with [Van Halen's] past." Seven tracks that appear on the album are based on material which Roth notes, "Eddie and I generated, literally, in 1975, 1976, and 1977", and Eddie added that some tracks were written "when I was still in high school and even junior high." "Blood and Fire" dates back to 1984, when it was an instrumental known as "Ripley" featured in Eddie's score for the film The Wild Life. The original title was inspired by Eddie using a Ripley guitar on the demo, and he sent the guitar back to Steve Ripley for fixing to use it on the album version.
Roth rewrote the lyrics for most tracks, putting a point of view coming from his present personal life. Roth declared that "All music is autobiographic. Particularly when it’s not meant to be”, adding that by retooling the songs "there is a body of new that meets halfway there, that I think makes very colorful sense."
Only the lead single "Tattoo" contains a synthesizer, played by Roth. Two songs, "You And Your Blues" and "As Is", have a processed guitar that sounds like a synth. Roth also performs the acoustic guitar on the intro for "Stay Frosty". Among the effects units Eddie used in the album are his trademark MXR Phase 90 to resemble the classic Van Halen sound, a Wah-wah pedal in many songs—particularly the "kind of Hendrix-ish" "The Trouble with Never” – and a Whammy pedal, which Eddie does not use live.
Van Halen had left label Warner Bros. Records in 2002, though the band signed a one-record deal with them afterwards in 2004 to release The Best of Both Worlds. For A Different Kind of Truth, Columbia Records negotiated with the band but the deal stalled as Roth did not want to sign with the label. Interscope Records chairman Jimmy Iovine intervened, and managed to sign Van Halen to his company.
The first single from the album, "Tattoo", was released on January 10, 2012. One day after its release to iTunes, it was the No. 1 selling rock song in the US, Canada, Finland and the Netherlands, while charting in Sweden, Belgium, Germany and the UK. By January 23, 2012, "Tattoo" was ranked No. 1 on Billboard's Hard Rock Singles chart, the No. 1 most played song at classic rock radio in its first week and No. 1 most added song at mainstream and active rock radio. On January 25, excerpts of both "Tattoo" and "Stay Frosty" were featured on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
A Different Kind of Truth was released on February 7, 2012, in both a regular CD and a deluxe version containing a bonus DVD called The Downtown Sessions, which contains acoustic versions of "Panama", "You and Your Blues" and "Beautiful Girls". The band also performed "You Really Got Me" in this acoustic session however that was left off the DVD and later released via Youtube. Walmart also had a special version bundling a T-shirt along with the CD, and Live Nation Entertainment sold online a double gatefold vinyl album that came along with the deluxe MP3 edition. On February 28, 2012, "She's the Woman" was serviced to radio as the second single. A video was released online on April 13, 2012, and on May 4 a promotional vinyl 7" single was serviced to 83 indie stores to be given with purchases of A Different Kind of Truth. The band members opted to avert excessive promotional press, an attitude that Roth described as "a sterling statement" on them not following "so many people on television telling you why you should buy something".
The cover artwork was designed by Los Angeles-based Smog Design, following a concept sent by Roth. The steam locomotive featured is a New York Central Railroad J-3A Dreyfuss Hudson, photographed by Robert Yarnall Richie. Smog co-owner John Heiden picked the image from the Southern Methodist University's photo library, stating he chose it because "Richie’s angle on the photo makes it look like the locomotive is in motion and coming off the page". Aside from a reversed angle of the locomotive, the artwork appears very similar to the 1975 Commodores album Movin' On. The booklet includes Roth's hand-written lyrics for the songs. Regarding the title, Eddie stated that he liked it because "there's always their reality of what other people think, and there's just the different kind of truth, which is the real truth."
After three warm-up shows at Cafe Wha? in New York City, Henson Studios in Hollywood, California, and The Forum in Inglewood, California, the band started the A Different Kind of Truth Tour in Louisville, Kentucky on February 18, lasting 46 shows until June 26 in New Orleans. The tour was the eighth most lucrative of 2012, with a total gross of $54,425,548 with and 9 sellouts with attendance of 522,296. Along with some songs out of the new album, the setlists tried to vary what was played in each concert and add songs the band had not performed live in a long time. A second North American leg was cancelled with the band claiming exhaustion, followed by three concerts in Japan being postponed as Eddie had an emergency surgery to treat for diverticulitis. In 2013, Van Halen performed the Japanese concerts, along with headlining gigs at three festivals: Stone Music Festival in Sydney – the band's first concert in Australia since 1998 -, Ford Festival Park in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and the California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles.
Upon its release, A Different Kind of Truth received positive reviews from music critics. Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 73, based on 21 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews."
The Montreal Gazette gave the album 4/5 stars, and USA Today gave the album 3.5/4 stars, and said that "this is the true kick in the butt that arena rock desperately needs." The Guardian gave the album four stars out of a possible five, writing that the album was "a frequently thrilling return" with songs that "crackle, fizz, and bulge with priapic exuberance". Likewise, Allmusic writer Stephen Thomas Erlewine rated the album four stars out of five and wrote: "Van Halen are using their history to revive their present and they succeed surprisingly well on A Different Kind of Truth." William Clark of Guitar International gave the album a positive review, saying "A Different Kind of Truth features some of the most elaborate, expansive, and simply wowing guitar playing that Eddie has passionately poured into a single album".
SPIN magazine wrote, "the frantic, haute-for-teacher ‘As Is’ and the mid-tempo shoulda-been-the-single ‘You and Your Blues’ can hang with any heavy-breathing romp they made in their heyday." The A.V. Club's Steven Hyden stated, "After so many years of fumbling dysfunction that reduced the once-proud Van Halen name to a laughingstock, A Different Kind Of Truth matters because it’s a reminder of why this band mattered," while noting that, "Roth deserves some of the credit for that. For whatever reason, when Roth is in the band, Eddie Van Halen plays guitar like the world wants him to play guitar." Rolling Stone gave the album 3.5 out of 5 stars, with critic Rob Sheffield stating, "Van Halen's ‘heard you missed us, we're back’ album is not only the most long-awaited reunion joint in the history of reunion joints, it is – against all reasonable expectations – a real Van Halen album."
Guitar World picked A Different Kind of Truth as the best album of 2012. Rolling Stone named "Stay Frosty" the 16th best song of 2012. and the magazine's readers put it as the fifth best album of the year.
A Different Kind of Truth entered the US Billboard 200 at No. 2, selling 188,000 copies in its first six days of release. It is the group's 14th consecutive top ten album in the US. By the end of 2012 the album had sold 411,000 copies in the US, making it the 72nd best-selling record of the year, and sixth among rock albums.
The album also debuted at No. 6 on the UK Albums Chart with first-week sales of 14,040 copies, becoming their highest charting album ever. In Japan, A Different Kind of Truth debuted at third on the Oricon chart, and was one of the very few albums by western artists to crack the year-end tally, finishing at number 89 with 79,517 copies sold. As of December 23, 2013, the album has sold 1 million copies worldwide.
All tracks written by Van Halen/Roth.
The Downtown SessionsVan Halen
David Lee Roth – lead vocals, synthesizer ("Tattoo"), acoustic guitar ("Stay Frosty")
Eddie Van Halen – guitar, backing vocals
Wolfgang Van Halen – bass, backing vocals
Alex Van Halen – drums
ProductionVan Halen – producers, mixing
John Shanks – producer
Ross Hogarth – mixing
Martin Cooke – engineer
Dan Chase – digital editing
Paul David Hager – assistant engineer
Peter Stanislaus – assistant engineer
Bernie Grundman – mastering
Smog Design – album cover
George Hernandez – Inner sleeve design
Robert Y. Richie Collection – cover image courtesy
DeGolyer Library, SMU – cover image courtesy