Nary a rock & roll-loving soul who came of age during the David Lee Roth years of Van Halen history (i.e. 1978-1984)—and damn few who came along later— could remain entirely immune to the appeal of the band that brought the world everything from the gut-crunching hard rock of
“Runnin’ with the Devil” and “Mean Street” to the synth-stoked pop perfection of “Jump.” In fact, it would be foolish to try. After all, how many other bands blended heavy metal shredding with power-pop hooks in a way that worked for headbangers and hit-radio rats alike? And how many acts that made their name on the late-‘70s Sunset Strip heavy-rock circuit successfully made the transition to synthesizers with nary a sweat in the New Wave ‘80s?
Opinions vary about the direction the band took after Roth went sashaying off to short-lived solo success as heavy metal’s answer to Louis Prima, when Sammy Hagar stepped in to take the band towards an even poppier sound and even more monumental commercial success. Fewer longtime fans were kindly disposed to the brief tenure of former Extreme singer Gary Cherone on the last VH album, 1998’s somewhat confusingly titled Van Halen III. But it seems unlikely that anyone would argue about the group’s salad days being the ones between Van Halen and 1984.
So when the reunion with Roth that hardcore Halen heads have spent decades dreaming about finally became a reality this year, it’s reasonable to imagine that millions of the VH faithful were prepared to embrace the event with arms outstretched in unconditional affection. Sure, bass man Michael Anthony had been (allegedly unceremoniously) given the boot in favor of Eddie Van Halen’s teenage son Wolfgang—but hey, at least Wolfie’s a Van Halen by blood—and in the end, the dynamic between Dave and Eddie is what the world’s been waiting for first and foremost.
So with A Different Kind of Truth—the first Roth-fronted Van Halen album in twenty-eight years—set for a February 7 release, and a tour in the works, the stage seemed set for a reunion even more rapturous than that of the band members—namely, the long-awaited reconnection between the band and its audience. And then came the proverbial monkeywrench in the works—the band unveiled its new single.
“Tattoo,” the first finished track from A Different Kind of Truth to be tossed to the ravenous public, made its online appearance in full-length form on January 10. Naturally there are plenty who are prepared to accept anything a Roth-fueled VH offers up, but within twenty-four hours of “Tattoo”’s premiere, there was no shortage of fans taking to online forums to express their dismay at what they perceived to be a tuneless, tossed-off rehash of an unreleased 1970s Van Halen song (“Down In Flames”). The debate between the skeptical and the satiated will likely continue raging long after the band rakes in the dough and rocks the multitudes with an array of undeniable classics on tour, but in the meantime, what’s more fun than sifting through the furious forum posts of the disappointed faithful?
Of course, the first, most obvious place to take the temperature of the fanbase is the seemingly unending comments section of the “Tattoo” video itself on YouTube, where memorable aspersions cast on Roth’s current image included one bizzarogeorge’s observation, “Holy crap! Chef Gordan Ramsey [sic] has_ some awesome dance moves!!” and ghaziausaf innocently inquired, “Who knew_ Steve Martin could sing???” (The latter was one of many Martin comparisons, FYI). Referencing Starsky & Hutch, watsontube followed the opinion that “There hasn’t been this much anticipation for rock mediocrity_ since [Guns N' Roses album] Chinese Democracy” by suggesting that “Diamond Dave looks like he raided Huggy Bear Brown’s closet.” Touching on the unavoidable comparisons with the Sammy-era band, eldo500 offered, “it’s better than Van Hagar, but that’s like saying gonorrhea is better than chlamydia.” Appropriately summing up the experience in a YouTube context, shawnspeed3 simply said, “Have I been Rick-Rolled? This sucks!”
One might, of course, suggest that YouTube is the province of any mook with a laptop, and is therefore a poor indicator of what the core of the band’s fanbase really thinks. Let’s toddle on over to Van Halen’s own Facebook fan page, then, where a number of folks found reason to reference past VH offshoots and previous incarnations. For instance, in a statement echoed by a number of his brethren, Steve Shartle brought up the band that currently contains both Hagar and Anthony, declaring with curious use of caps but no shortage of exclamation points, “THANK god we have CHICKENFOOT!!!!!!!” In similar fashion, TJ McLelland cut to the quick with perhaps the most withering comment of all, “Bring back Gary Cherone!!”
And in case you’re thinking that the denizens of the dedicated Van Halen fan-forum site www.vhlinks.com were unanimously inclined to let the band off easy, think again. Sure, there were some staunch supporters of “Tattoo” to be found there, but a LeftyVanHalen, for instance, made sure that there was plenty of blame to go around the bandstand by asking “Did Alex use a drum machine?” Even the quality of the video itself came into question, as the irrepressible MWood919 kicked off a long, contentious thread that began, “Th… this is a joke, right? Someone just cut together a joke reel from the raw footage, right? Like, there’s going to be a PROFESSIONAL video soon… right? Like, a film crew showed up at some point and shot something for a SERIOUS rock video…” Following up his avowed—and seemingly earnest—intention to make a better video for the song himself, VH3H8R replied succinctly, “While you’re at it, could you improve the song as well?”