LISTENING STATION: Van Halen’s ‘A Different Kind of Truth’

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A Different Kind of Truth

Van Halen

Interscope Records

★★★

Note to every middle-aged rock band looking to stage a big comeback this year: take your cues from Van Halen.

Like a cat with nine lives (and several pairs of spandex pants), Van Halen keeps taking a fall and getting back up again. Three singers and two bass players have cycled through the group’s ranks. Now, after a 14-year break from the recording studio, the band is back for the umpteenth time, recording its first album with original frontman David Lee Roth since “1984.”

Even with Diamond Dave onboard, “A Different Kind of Truth” has a lot of hurdles to clear. Eddie Van Halen’s 20-year-old son is playing bass, for starters, and Mr. Roth — once the poster child for living life like a wild, hedonistic adolescent — is now in his mid-50s. Remember those midair splits he used to do? Consider them a thing of the past.

Still, “A Different Kind of Truth” is the most classic-sounding thing to emerge from the Van Halen camp in two decades. Wolfgang, the youngest Van Halen, makes his debut as an aggressive, nimble-fingered bass player, and father Eddie is in fine form, too, churning up a whirlwind of pop-metal riffs. The guys pretty much ignore any musical trend that emerged during the 28-year interim between Mr. Roth’s exit and this album’s release, focusing instead on songs that would’ve sounded contemporary during the mid-1980s.

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes of the Sunset Strip’s glory days, Van Halen seems to have gotten its mojo back. Or maybe the guys just needed Diamond Dave, who celebrates his return with a mix of showbiz camp and hard rock swagger. He’s still a chameleonic singer, crooning the melodies one minute and yelping his way around Eddie’s finger-tapped guitar solos the next.

“I told you I was coming back,” he huffs during “Blood and Fire,” one of the album’s hardest rocking songs. “Say you missed me [and] say it like you mean it.” As if he had to twist our arm.

Kisses on the Bottom

Paul McCartney

Hear Music

★★½

Paul McCartney’s voice hasn’t exactly soured over the years, but it’s certainly lost some of its spry charm, the victim of 50-plus years of near-constant use.

Mr. McCartney gives his tenor a break with “Kisses on the Bottom,” an easygoing collection of jazz standards and retro-sounding originals that reflect his interest in the Great American Songbook. These songs don’t rock; they shuffle and sway, catering to the softer side of his voice. He sounds comfortable as a result, his mellow mood perfectly mirroring the music itself.

With Diana Krall and her jazz band playing on every song, “Kisses” sounds surprisingly authentic, as though Mr. McCartney grew up singing jazz instead of howling rock ‘n’ roll. There are some missteps, of course — the children’s choir on “The Inch Worm” is a cloying addition, as though Mr. McCartney threw it in to appease his grandkids — but it’s nice to hear the hardest-working Beatle stretch his legs a bit.

Le Voyage Dans La Lune

Air

Virgin

★★½

More than a century ago, French filmmaker Georges Melies single-handled launched the science-fiction movie genre with “Le Voyage Dans La Lune,” a 14-minute silent film. 110 years later, the movie has received a retroactive soundtrack courtesy of Air.

Air previously recorded the soundtrack to Sofia Coppola’s “The Virgin Suicides,” but scoring a movie so old, so revered, presents a different sort of challenge. Looking to bridge the gap between past and present, Air come up with an odd jumble of genres, from retro-futuristic sci-fi music to electronica to prog-rock. Often, the music perfectly evokes the feeling of being jettisoned into space; other times, it sounds cluttered, as though someone purposely threw a wrench into this spaceship’s engine.

“Cosmic Trip” is the most lunar-sounding song here, thanks to a space-age voice-over and fizzy, effervescent keyboards. Not every song dovetails so neatly with the film’s content, though, and “Le Voyage Dans La Lune” winds up being a somewhat dispensable addition to a movie that, frankly, needs little improvement.

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