Van Halen didn’t play “Tattoo” — their first single with frontman David Lee Roth in something like 16 years — during last week’s free-wheeling, free-spirited (and free-booze-fueled) club show in New York City, and it’s sort of a shame. It would’ve fit in rather nicely alongside the massive Carter/Reagan-era smashes they did work into the set.
Don’t get me wrong, “Tattoo” isn’t on par with the likes of “Runnin’ With the Devil,” “Everybody Wants Some!!” or “Panama,” but it’s cast from the same mold: huge riffs, huger backbeat, hangar-sized chorus, soaring vocal harmonies (thought it’s certainly weird to see Eddie Van Halen’s son filling Michael Anthony’s role in that regard) and a killer guitar solo. Diamond Dave even gets to do one of his patented talking bits. But perhaps most importantly, in keeping with grand Van Halen tradition, it doesn’t try to be anything more than a Sterno-grade party starter. “Tattoo” isn’t really about politics or religion or really even feelings (except for maybe the part where Roth sings about his uncle being in the union). Instead, it is entirely about, well, tattoos. Of all shapes and sizes. Or, as Roth puts it, “Sexy dragon magic!”
And really, what else needs to be said? At the very least, “Tattoo” is miles better than the last two songs the band recorded with Roth, “Me Wise Magic” and “Can’t Get This Stuff No More,” from 1996’s Best Of Volume 1. And when compared to the other “new” song Van Halen premiered during Thursday’s Café Wha? set — “She’s the Woman,” which, truth be told, has actually existed in demo form since the ’70s — you can’t help but get excited for their comeback disc, A Different Kind of Truth, if only because they seem to have bucked the whole “reunited band makes new album” trend and decided not to mess with the old tried-and-true formula. Truth be told, fans don’t really want to hear the new stuff; they just want the hits. Or a close approximation thereof. And “Tattoo” is most definitely that.
There’s even an accompanying video, which premiered Tuesday (January 10). It’s little more than a black-and-white clip, reportedly shot during the band’s rehearsals at the Roxy on the Sunset Strip, and yet, it doesn’t have to be anything more. For fans not lucky enough to get inside Café Wha? last week, it’s probably enough just to see Van Halen up close and personal — not to mention actually happy — with Eddie still pulling solos from his guitar and Roth making approximations of his manic stage moves (sadly, no midair splits, but, I mean, come on). Given how low we’ve set the reunion bar in recent years, it’s no wonder “Tattoo” stands out the way it does. It is a solid, slightly pyrotechnic reminder of what made Van Halen so great, and why folks are (dare I say it?) optimistic about the new album. And who knows? Perhaps VH can even change our long-held belief that reunions can’t totally rock. And they’re doing it with nothing more than some “sexy dragon magic.” Keep it simple, indeed.
What do you think of “Tattoo”? Share your reviews in the comments below!