If you were anywhere near the Internet in early February, you likely couldn't miss the hue and cry of a certain cohort of Dudes of a Certain Age crowing about how amazingly incredibly awesomely surprisingly kickass the new Van Halen album was. Comments like “picked up where they left off” and “it's so great to hear these guys playing together again” and “reunion albums are never this great” were definitely in the mix, and, most amazingly, they were issued without the many caveats and qualifiers that typically accompany such declarations.
As one of those Dudes of a Certain Age, I confess that I was certainly a vocal contributor to said hue and cry, as I was completely flabbergasted at the strength of the album as a whole, at how well the mid-'70s demos were converted into brand-new rockers, and, of course, at the fact that I was sitting here – a grown-ass man with generally respectable (and occasionally respected) taste in music – in 2012, giddy with joy over a new Van Halen album.
I also confess that I haven't listened to A Different Kind of Truth since the week after its release. In fact, when it came time to buckle down and write a preview of the band's reunion tour stop at the Amway Center, all I wanted to do was not listen to Truth, and instead luxuriate in the eternal excellence of Fair Warning or side two of 1984. This is not a comment on the quality of A Different Kind of Truth – the album is the best ever put out by a reconstituted legacy act 30 years after their prime.
But it doesn't matter. Van Halen in 2012 simply can't be anything more than a band and a sound that trades completely on nostalgia, evoking the decadent possibilities of the era in which they did matter. The hedonism, debauchery and Jack-from-the-bottle days of the late-'70s and early-'80s have come and gone, and even though Eddie, Alex and Diamond Dave are gelling fantastically, and even though they've made an album that eclipses everything Van Halen has done post-1984, it just doesn't matter. They may as well have released a crap album – or no album at all – and just gone on tour. It's great that they didn't, and diehard Van Halen fans have every reason to be pleased with how good A Different Kind of Truth is. But pretending that it's anything other than a respectable reminder of how powerful the band – and hard rock in general – was in the group's early days is a fool's errand.
And, in exactly the same way that Truth acted as that reminder, so too will the reunion shows. There will be moments of ecstatic rock & roll happiness, but the fact remains that as a culture, we're well into the post-Van Halen era. They served up a solid reminder of past glories, but that's really all they can do anymore.
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