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Van Halen, ‘Tattoo’ – Song Review

Kevin Mazur, Getty Images

Van Halen‘s new single ‘Tattoo’ has arrived, and it’s a blend of old and new styles that’s sure to stir some fan debate and heighten curiosity about the band’s upcoming album ‘A Different Kind of Truth.’ The first song to emerge from the new record, ‘She’s the Woman,’ as debuted at the band’s New York City club show last week, was taken nearly intact from the band’s original 1976 demo tapes. ‘Tattoo’ has a clear link to an old unreleased VH track as well, sharing the main riff and basic verse structure with ‘Down in Flames,’ which according to the Van Halen Encyclopedia, was performed several times on the band’s 1978 tour. The 2012 version, ‘Tattoo,’ has brand new lyrics, a fresh chorus and some more modern touches. To be clear, that’s “more modern,” not “modern.” The whole song has a bit of a laid-back ZZ Top vibe, although the light backing keyboard bed and super-clean production puts us more in the territory of 1990′s ‘Recycler’ than, say, 1979′s ‘Deguello.’ The effects on Roth’s vocal intro and chorus sound more like something off a late-era Cars record.

(Can’t believe we went this far without mentioning: Eddie sounds typically fantastic throughout, of course, with a classic and very traditional “in case you forgot…” solo highlighting the song’s back half.) Overall, the song seems a slightly odd, relaxed choice for the first single and lead-off track on such a momentous album, although there’s a definite “grower” appeal that comes up on repeated plays. Some of us old-school fans were undoubtedly hoping for something a bit more aggressive and raw sounding, but this is after all the single so hopefully (and presumably) we’ll get those kicks on other tracks.

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