My Handy-Dandy Tool Quotebook:
Andypants, former chubby fast-food-eating rocker turned svelte fishetarian indie nerd: "It's not that I don't like Tool, it's just that I've grown out of that whole... thing."
Bobbysocks, gullible, coked-out drummer/sound guy: "Tool believe that the human body has eight pressure points, from which all the earth's energy and anger pervades ..."
Fanman, witness to an early-days Tool show at a seedy Spokane bar that's been renamed dozens of times since: "No matter where you sat in the crowd, it seemed like Maynard was looking at you."
Joeljeans, commenting on this reviewer's putting off the inevitable: "I find it very strange and disturbing that you have not taken the time to listen to the new Tool. You have no idea what you're missing."
And there you have it, folks: The most confusing commercial band on the planet, interpreted by the most confusing group of colleagues on the planet.
But first a little background. In the mid-to-late '90s, this reviewer made a few discoveries that would change his life even more than the time he saw his first manatee come up for air in a Ft. Lauderdale canal. First came Portishead's Dummy, an album so dark and distinguished and un-supported by radio I knew there must be other artists like them just waiting to be discovered. Secondly, Radiohead's OK Computer came out. Do I need to explain this one? Nah, you're not a fucking idiot, right? Ok Frodo Tea-Bagg-ins, tread closely, my dumpling, to...
Sea change number three: discovering Tool's Aenima. This was huge largely because, for me, it came out of nowhere. I bought their full-length debut Undertow TWICE and sold it back, finding it boring and too one-note to warrant consistent listening. When I found a used copy of Aenima, I nabbed it out of sheer curiosity, and it sat on the backburner for a few months. Then I saw Tool live on the 1997 Lollapalooza tour and BAM/BIFF/POW/WHACK!?!!?!... It was all over for me (apparently the guy that climbed a lightpost and started screaming had an epiphany, too). A week later, I bought a drumset. Within a few more weeks, I found myself studying Aenima's vast landscape, particularly its rubber-armed drumming that was simultaneously in-the-pocket and outside-the-box. This went on for a few years; I became Danny Carey's secret pupil. The epic 15-tracker became as much a part of my late-teens personality as my Melvins Eggnog T-shirt (with the cute bunny!) and my signature flop-tastic beer belly (the secret is keeping the rest of your body skinny!).
Now, reviewing Tool's latest nigh a decade later, I find myself agreeing with above-quoted Andypants more than I would like to. Something has changed, and I find myself envying Joeljeans' enthusiasm like a senior citizen might envy my bottomless sex drive [three go-rounds or the fourth one's free!]. I want badly to be as excited about 10,000 Days as I was for 2001's Lateralus, but it's just not in the cards. But this separation isn't akin to outgrowing a part of childhood I'm embarrassed by. Its origins run much deeper, to the point where I can't pinpoint the source.
Who gives a rip, right? This is supposed to be an unbiased music review, after all. But this reviewer's gradual orbit away from Tool is relevant because it runs parallel to the quartet's slow drift from the achingly powerful prog-metal of their best work. Lateralus was a great album, mind you, but it foreshadowed a dimple of things to come. Tool weren't stuck in a rut, but rather than overhaul their sound completely as they did in the past, they simply urged the album that preceded it further into space. You could hear trace similarities between the two works, whereas the jolting disparities between their past records were obvious and invigorating. For any other band, this would be not only expected but applauded, but for Tool it was cause for concern.
In its near-perfunctoriness, 10,000 Days takes this progression a step further, to the point where entire passages can be traced directly to past branches on the Tool family tree. And for you Tool fans out there, believe me, it hurts me as much as you to see Tool berated for their latest record. It's like hearing people bash Mormons: Although I don't practice the faith as my family continues to, it stings a little to hear people rail on something they obviously don't understand. Heavens to Midler, I wanted to be the one indie critic that stood behind this album and barked a vigilant "FUCK YUUUU" to the snark sharks at other online publications. I AGREE that comparing Tool to construction-worker-friendly, toolbelt bands like Godsmack on the basis of their mutual commercial success is ignorant as comparing Radiohead to Coldplay. But the flourishes of 10,000 Days are no-doubt a sign the band have run out of fresh ideas. I know because I've committed these formerly fresh ideas to memory and packed them away in a mental hopechest. Ironically enough, if you've considered yourself a Tool fanatic at one point or another, you'll be in the best position to notice their newfound lack of prog-ress, save an electronic surge at the entry point of "Intension" and the off-kilter soundsmithing of "10,000 Days (Wings Part Two)."
To you, the sprawling jams and machine-like slamming of "Right In Two" will present itself as a simple splicing of the dirges that made "Third Eye" and "46 + 2" such pleasant explorations back in '97. Through your eyes, Carey's tom-tom-bass triplets and other counter-rhythmic motifs will have become obvious, as he employed these weapons gratuitously on Aenima and nearly haphazardly on Lateralus. You'll distinctly sense that Adam Jones has become a larger element in Tool's attack, yet his post-Waters Floyd noodling and spam-handed chug-a-lug-a riffage on "Jambi" and others leave much to be desired. And the production... ahh, FUCK ME JOGGING the production. If you slapped two layers of duct tape over Carey's toms and chucked Jones' guitar in a deep-fat fryer, you'd still pull a better knob-job than... Oh, 10,000 Days is self-produced! Damn, and Pinkerton struck such a weighty blow for self-production...
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you'll realize Maynard James Keenan, after years of providing commercial metal with at least a semblance of lyrical worth in a sea of inanity, is finally phoning in his pfunk, his long-distance narratives reduced to a monotonous dial tone. "Who are you to wave your finger"? "You must have been high"? "I do believe I spilled a diamond sundae"? Something's missing. Vice-tight as most of the instrumentation is, the droopy lyrics are a huge distraction. It used to be that if you took Keenan and co. too seriously, the prank was on YOU. Tool used to yoke the joker; now they have trace amounts of egg on their faces for the first time.
Nonetheless, Tool's diehard fans will greedily gobble this semi-garbled album up like its gristle never existed, much like the folks that strip a chicken leg so thoroughly you'd think they'd stuck the whole thing in their mouths and slurped the meat off like a Looney Toons character. I, myself, will likely revisit 10,000 Days for plenty of extended listens, partly because I'm a percussion whore and partly because I want to be able to enjoy it with my Super Metal Friendz. But this is Soy Tool, a rubbery substitute for the real thing; a Bukowski For Dummies in lieu of Ham on Rye. My, what a discouraging year 2006 is turning out to be...
3. Wings For Marie (Pt 1)
4. 10,000 Days (Wings Pt 2)
5. The Pot
6. Lipan Conjuring
7. Lost Keys (Blame Hofmann)
8. Rosetta Stoned
10. Right In Two
11. Viginti Tres