Headbangers’ Brawl is a weekly column where Metal Insider’s Bram and Zach take a moment to debate and analyze two opposing sides of a topical issue occurring in the world of metal and/or the music industry.
On February 7, Van Halen will finally be releasing their long-awaited album A Different Kind Of Truth, their first with David Lee Roth since 1984. Chances are that you know about the uproar over the band reworking old demos for the album. Some songs like “She’s The Woman” are without question songs the band originally demoed in the 70’s, while fans have noted strong similarities in some of the recent samples and even the first single “Tattoo.” While many people’s first reaction may be of disappointment, all of the commotion also has some people asking “Who cares?” In fact, many will point out how many of Van Halen’s past songs were basically reworked demos. So is it really that big of a deal that Van Halen are doing that now? Well that’s the question Bram and Zach will be debating in this week’s Headbangers’ Brawl.
Zach: I’m not against the idea of Van Halen reworking or even reusing old demos at all. In fact, it probably would produce better material than if Roth and Eddie actually sat down now and tried to write together. I guess my problem with it all is how it seems like they (or their label, since let’s be frank, the band has done very little promotion themselves) are trying to push the songs as brand spanking new, which they are but only to a certain extent. It’s almost as if they don’t expect long-time fans to notice that some songs sound awfully familiar to an old demo (maybe 20 years ago it would’ve slipped, but not any more thanks to YouTube). If they were a little more open about how they reworked some old demos, this whole thing wouldn’t have caused such a stir. Then again, maybe they will end up playing that angle once they actually do press for the album.
Bram: I actually think it’s a dream come true for any Van Halen fan. The die-hards have known these songs as demos, but now the dust has been blown off them and they’ve been re-recorded for mass consumption. That’s an absolute win for people that have been following the band for over 30 years. And since there hasn’t been any Van Halen music for years, to hear songs that were written years ago sung by the person who originally wrote them is awesome. I also think it’s unfair to say that they’re trying to deceive their fans. As you said, they haven’t done press yet, but I’m sure in a week or two, there’ll a full-on media blitz as the album comes out. I’d be surprised if they don’t address it then. But for now, I think that recognizing the new songs as old demos is like an easter egg for the uber-fans, and as for everyone else, they’re hearing brand new VH songs!
Z: For the sake of argument, though, couldn’t some argue that there’s a reason why particular demos never saw the light of day? Then again, after hearing the sample of “China Town,” I’m not sure if that argument could still stand. And I agree that it actually could be seen as a treat for the hardcore fans who’ve followed them since day one. However, it also could be seen as lazy. If the three (plus Wolfgang) decided to rework some old demos because they thought it would be a fun way to recapture the classic sound, then that’s awesome. But knowing how there was a time Roth and the Van Halen brothers couldn’t even be in the same room without trying to strangle each other (anyone remember the 96 VMAs?), I have a bad feeling that egos made it hard for them write together and thus they opted to record leftovers.
B: Yeah, but you’re being hypothetical. Granted, we’ve been hearing about this album forever, but I’d imagine the best way to dust off the cobwebs of what’s essentially a new band would be to go over some old songs. Or maybe they did have a massive case of writer’s block. At the end of the day, we’ve heard two full songs and snippets of three more. I’d bet that most Van Halen fans like what they’ve heard. Expectations for most reunited bands are pretty low, so I’m not ashamed to say that they’ve exceeded the bar that I’d had set for them. If the songs are good, it doesn’t matter whether they were written 35 years ago or 35 minutes ago.
Furthermore, the band have been finishing songs that were demos for their whole career with Roth. “House of Pain” was an old demo that didn’t make it on to an album until 1984. And when Sammy Hagar joined, they even recycled old Van Halen songs (listen to the end of “Jump,” then listen to “Top of the World”)! I think the world needs a new Van Halen album right now, even if it’s not an entirely new Van Halen album.