Friday, May 05, 2006

Goddamn. Shit The Bed

Tool – 10,000 Days

When the best band in the world takes six years to follow up one of the best albums ever made, they're inviting a bit of over-anticipation. Before Lateralus came out Tool had been defunct for several years, Maynard had joined A Perfect Circle and the band was engaged in a long legal battle with their record label. Even though everyone loved Aenima, I think few people really expected Lateralus to even come out, and certainly not for it to turn out so good. Hence 10,000 Days is the first Tool album to be released with the full weight of anticipation upon it, and no matter what they did with it it was always going to invite a backlash. A brief look over the Tool Navy message boards will show you dozens of people swearing that the album leaked to the internet was a fake, or that it just plain sucks. But they're all wrong. It's not as good as Lateralus but I'd still rate it at least on a par with Aenima. To be honest I was slightly disappointed the first time I put it on, but with repeated listening I'm growing to like it more and more.

To start with, the album packaging is great. The booklet contains a series of stereoscopic images that can be viewed in 3D with the help of a special pair of glasses attached to the CD case (you can't download that!) The art itself is excellent too, easily better than even that of Lateralus. The common motifs include skulls and the guy on the front cover image with dozens of eyes and universes inside his head. Each member of the band has a solo portrait, posing with all sorts of esoteric materials from a wizards laboratory around them. The overall mood is far more mystical and old-worldly than they've appeared before. It's such a cool package that now I wish I hadn't downloaded the album early, as the packaging really does enhance the music. I rolled my eyes when the band said that they wanted the music to be experienced with the artwork, but I realise now they were right.

So what about the actual music then? In some ways I feel like it's a bit of a step back from Lateralus, the songs have less progression and are arranged more in the manner of Aenima, based around straightforward repeated riffs instead of moving forward from one place to another. It's not as meticulously arranged as Lateralus either; with the exception of 'Vicarious' the overall structure as well as the individual riffs are looser and less elegant. Although this isn't necessarily a bad thing, as together with it's rawer production it combines to give 10,000 Days a more natural, bluesy feel.

Maynard's vocals have gone in new directions. There's little of his typical Tool screaming and he seems to have bought a lot of his A Perfect Circle approach to singing to the songs. He also experiments more on this album, as on earlier Tool albums he pretty much used the same voice the whole way through, merely varying along the scream/sing axis. His lyrics are also some of the best he's ever written, a definite step up from Lateralus and Thirteenth Step, which I felt he was possibly rushed for time in coming up with lyrics for. Justin, the bass player, seems to have finally come into his own too. On Aenima and Lateralus he certainly did a good job but was always overshadowed by the huge talent of the other three band members. On 10,000 Days he seems to have become more of a central focus to the music, playing more of the melody and less just rhythm. Danny Carey has once again just ratcheted himself one notch higher on the insane-o-meter. On the other hand Adam Jones, my idol as a guitar player, is the only one who seems to have slipped a bit. He's using much more complicated rhythms and has certainly advanced the music technically, but it's come at the expense of some of the visceral emotion that made his compositions on earlier albums so great. Hopefully by the time they put out another album he will have progressed some more and be able to meld both the passion and the technique together, because that will fucking rock.

The album opens with 'Vicarious', which we have probably all heard many times by now. Maynard's lyrics deal with the political situation of the world today, but in an indirect way by lambasting the tendency of the human race towards schadenfreude. Surprisingly it's probably the weakest song on the album. There are lots of clever time signatures and it's one of the slickest in terms of production and arrangement (in other words the song that could belong most easily on Lateralus), but still it's a good catchy, heavy track that's probably just diminished a little by listening to it too much over the last few weeks.

'Jambi' continues in a heavy vein, also featuring some weird time signatures but this time arranged in a much more natural, engaging way. This track features Adam's best work on the album, with the very satisfying tempo changes from subdued but menacing to heavy and of course with his legendary talk-box solo in the middle. This is probably the highlight of the album in terms of a catchy song that stands on it's own, and it's bound to be a winner during their live shows.

'Wings For Marie' and '10,000 Days' are a pair of songs that go together. They both open with some of the gentlest material Tool have ever produced, and the two songs are rendered most memorable by some of Maynard's best and most personal lyrics he's ever written, dealing with his mother's death (after 10,000 days paralysed by a stroke). Both tracks end with a heavy passage, although the first one is much better than the second, followed by an incredibly sad coda that is identical on both tracks save for the lyrics. This moody, reflective song is a real departure for the band and works very well. The Tool Navy forums are full of people saying they can't listen to this song without crying, a bit of an extreme reaction but it's impossible to hear Maynard close 'Wings For Marie' with “It's time for us to let you go...” and not feel a shiver.

'The Pot' opens with the album's big What The Fuck moment; Maynard singing unaccompanied “Who are you to wave your finger/ You must have been out your mind,” in what has been described as his best James Blunt voice. The song then goes on to rock out in a big way. It's probably the closest thing to a classic Tool song on the album and will probably make a great single. Heavy, catchy and with clever lyrics paying out hypocritical idiots, it's all very familiar territory for these guys pulled off with impeccable skill and total assurance.

'Lipan Conjuring' is a short Native American chant to ward off evil, and to clear the past away for the future. In other words, the absolute definition of an album divider.

'Lost Keys (Blame Hoffman)' is the track that was my favourite on my initial listen. Slow, simple and pretty, wistful but not depressing. A bit of a skit runs under the music, as an Australian doctor (New Zealand and Australia are Tool's biggest fans per head of population, so the doctor's nationality is probably a bit of a nod in our direction) attempts to diagnose an unresponsive Maynard, finally asking him “What's happened? Tell me everything...”; cue feedback and then the repeated riff starts up again with heavy distortion, leading us into the songs other half 'Rosetta Stoned'. For the first few listens I wrote this song off completely. It goes for a good ten or eleven minutes and seems fairly aimless and repetitive. The only immediately catchy thing about it is Maynard's aggressive cutup vocals, which babble and rave nonsense under heavy riffs that repeat in odd time changes, leaving the listener in a very unsettled state of mind. However recently it's been rapidly growing on me. Anyone who's having trouble getting into this song should try reading the lyrics, the story is goofy and funny but once you get the mood behind it the song makes more sense, it's supposed to invoke the idea of a bad trip, a recurring dream and the feeling of trying to remember something very important that you can't put your finger on, all at the same time. If you've ever had a drug induced experience when your brain is flying around in feverish, frustrated circles you'll know the feeling. It's a hard song to listen to, but one that is rewarding when given enough attention.

The album winds down with 'Intension', a mellow progression from 'Disposition' off Lateralus. However 'Intension' is a little darker and a lot longer. It's one of the more forgettable tracks off the album but it's pleasant enough and remains listenable over its seven minutes. Watch out for Maynard's backwards message at the beginning: “Work hard, stay in school, listen to your parents.”

The last song is my favourite. 'Right In Two' starts off in a very gentle vein, with a beautifully sad riff by Adam, and Maynard singing about the angels watching over Earth, puzzled by these stupid humans who use their God given free will and reason to fight and kill one another. Gradually the attitude of the angels turns to anger and the music bursts into the album closing rock out, complete with Danny Carey sounding like his arms must be about to fly off. The closing refrain is “Cut it all right in two”, are the angels describing the actions of the humans or have the angels decided to cut us all right in two, 'Aenema' style. Are the angels attempting to bless us with patience and reason or is Maynard attempting to bless the angels with those qualities? In other words are we going to fuck ourselves or is nature going to fuck us or is there still a little bit of hope for humanity...

'Vigniti Tres'. A quiet little walk out track, very reminiscent of 'Switches' by Coil. A better album closer that 'Faaip De Oaid' from Lateralus, I think.

17 comments:

andrew brown said...

I don't think either lateralus or this one have a good closer. 3rd eye is their best closer let alone song...

no offence, but how can adam jones be your guitar idol, sure he writes cool riffs, but he kinda sucks...

and i don't get shivers in 10,000 days myself.

unlike other tool albums i have no connection to this album at all, it honestly feels like they've run out of steam here, like i said, over the hill (in reference to your vicarious review) but thats just my opinion, some people love this album more than any other

and you should never read the tool navy forums because honestly have you ever met a bigger group of retards. tool is the only band where the band is so much better than other bands but their fans are just so infinitely worse...

Jon said...

Agreed about Tool Navy, the only reason I went there was to see the lyrics transcriptions, which seem fairly accurate.

Third Eye is a completely different beast to the last track of either Lateralus or 10,000 Days, it's a proper song whereas the others are just little outros.

Adam Jones certainly does not suck! The thing I find most interesting about any musician is how evocative and affecting their writing and performance is. Nothing pisses me off more than people confusing technical wankery with skill. Sure it's skill of a kind but without real musicianship it's just boring. Adam is the perfect example of a guitarist who isn't flashy and who's stuff is usually pretty easy to play, but as a songwriter he's one of the best.

Joel said...

hear hear Jon.

A computer could out-technical-wank any human, but are a long way of to having musicianship.

Joel said...

gah, me speak mental.

sorry my sentence structure isn't up to scratch.

andrew brown said...

as a guitarist who isn't very good, i understand what you mean, but i still disagree. i dont think he has particularily good writing skills, i think he is skilled at creating good atmosphere/mood but not much else, he's quite limited.... anyway.. OPINION ON THE INTERNET i once read something that said winning an argument on the internet is like winning gold at the special olympics. sure you win but you're still retarded :D

fairy princess said...

Great review Jon. You made me want to listen to the album...and I hate tool!

Jungle Rhino said...

Yes a very good review which really lets me appreciate the songs more. I must admit when I first heard the album I thought - well this is pretty slow and boring but after listening to it more an more I really like it. But I really can't nail down why... it's just really really nice.

It's even better when compared to some of their old school contempories such as Korn - they're *REAL* good now! and Rage - who sort of just drowned in their own saminess.

andrew brown said...

that's it for me, I don't really like 'nice' things, and this album isn't very heavy, and it's kinda emotional and nice, and frankly, i can't be bothered with it. i just wanna rock out, and in that regard, this album leaves me hanging, if I wanted nice I'd go listen to 'pieces of you'

Jon said...

Andrew: I think creating mood and atmosphere (in other words conveying emotion) is the most important thing about song writing. The fact that Adam does this so well while at the same time being so obviously self-taught with regard to music theory only makes it more impressive.

Jungle Rhino: I can't think of another grunge/metal band from the early 90s which is still around and is as good as they were back in the day. The closest I can think of is NIN, but With Teeth, while decent, is certainly no Downward Spiral.

andrew brown said...

jon i do agree to an extent, but i also think he's very limited in what he does. he can create some emotions well but not others. i think he's good for what he does, but there aren't many other musical styles he could even do, and not just for lack of technical ability. but whatever, he makes tool good!

it's a shame most 90's bands haven't stuck around seeing as the early 90's was miles better than anything that's happened since!

Jon said...

Yeah in some ways Adam does tend to rely on the same old tricks album after album. It's hard to say whether this is a conscious decision or an indication of a lack of ability. I guess we'll never know for sure until Tool release their polka album.

Joel said...

Internet debate

andrew brown said...

seeing as you don't like the tool navy forums i thought i'd point you to a decent discussion of it linktime

Jon said...

That forum's definitely not as aggravating as Tool Navy, but I'm not a huge fan of Something Awful in general (Your Band Sucks aside), they're just a bit too smug and post-ironic for me. I prefer Ruthless...

Ed said...

Check this out Jon
http://www.tattooartists.org/Images/FullSize/000015000/Img15191_jeremynew.jpg

Ed said...

Lets try that again

Jon said...

That's pretty cool. Must have taken a fucking long time to get done though...