Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Aurally Interesting, Though Vocally Incomprehensible For Decent Lyrics, Tool's 10,000 Days Ultimately Disappoints.

The Good: Moments of intriguing instrumentals, Most of the lyrics.
The Bad: Vocals are noisy and often terrible, Some of the instrumentals are monotonous and obvious
The Basics: With moody, overbearing guitars and banging drums, Tool drowns out its own lyrics on 10,000 Days, making it a somewhat pointless and unpleasant listening experience.

You know you're out of touch with the next generation when you are recommended music by members of that youthful group and your first instinct is to call it "noise." A few years back, I befriended a middle aged woman and her daughter. Unlike the Christian Fundamentalist mother, the daughter is a rebellious artist who is striking out on her own and I've been sharing music with her lately. It was she who introduced me to Imogen Heap's Speak For Yourself.

So, when she enthusiastically recommended 10,000 Days, an album by Tool, she had some credibility with me. Now she has somewhat less . . . Now she has quite a bit less credibility for decent music in my mind. I've been opening myself up to new and different experiences lately, but some of that process has just reinforced that what I had before was . . . well, taste.

With eleven tracks clocking in at 75:50, the fourth studio album from Tool is a heavy metal/progressive metal rock album. Tool, an all-guy quartet, relies on loud, heavy guitar and bass accompanied by pounding drums to create its sound. Virtually every song sublimates the vocals to the instrumentals and at the same time presents the guitars in the same way; it is as if the guitarists simply learned one thrashing motion with their hands to define how they play guitar. 10,000 Days, then is aurally all about guitar riffs and scratchy vocals buried beneath layers of production elements.

All of the tracks appear to be written by the band and given the infrequency of their releases, it seems like this is very probably their distinct musical vision. It's a dark vision and one that is chock full of decent imagery and diction. Take, for example, the album opener, "Vicarious." On this track, Maynard James Keenan sings about the voyeurism of witnessing destruction and decay with lines like, ""We won't give pause until the blood is flowing / Neither the brave nor bold / The writers of stories sold / We won't give pause until the blood is flowing / I need to watch things die / From a good safe distance / Vicariously I, live while the whole world dies / You all feel the same so / Why can't we just admit it" ("Vicarious") and outside the Avrill-esque quality of rhyming a word with itself ("flowing"/"flowing", "die"/"dies") the group has a pretty decent sense of poetics. The imagery is dark and thought-provoking, moody and heavy.

For sure, Tool has lyrics that are written with a somewhat higher level of diction. The group has a strong ability to make allusions to pop culture, as they do on tracks like Rosetta Stoned. There, Keenan sings, ". . .Then the X-Files being, looking like some kind of blue-green / Jackie Chan with Isabella Rossellini lips and breath that reeked of vanilla Chig Champa, / did a slow-mo Matrix descent out of the butt end of the banana vessel and hovered above my bug-eyes, / my gaping jaw, and my sweaty L. Ron Hubbard upper lip and all I could think was: / "I hope Uncle Martin here doesn't notice that I pissed my fuckin' pants" ("Rosetta Stoned"). Catching all of the references makes the song that much richer, that much more complete and the men of Tool seem fearlessly willing to make that level of constant commentary to sell their visions.

And what are their visions? Largely 10,000 Days seems to capture the alienation and chaotic elements of life and the world. Keenan seems to demand acceptance to the idea that we make our own fate with lines like, "Angels on the sideline, / Puzzled and amused. / Why did Father give these humans free will? / Now they're all confused. / Don't these talking monkeys know that / Eden has enough to go around? / Plenty in this holy garden, silly monkeys, / Where there's one you're bound to divide it. / Right in two" ("Right In Two"). And the songs are well-written to actually SAY something, though the notable exception to that might well be "Lost Keys (Blame Hofmann)," a track that has a dialogue within it instead of sung lines, creating a mystery in an investigator's or coroner's office.

The problem with the album is for all of the lyrics I could cite to sell Tool as a band with something to say, the way it says it completely and unflinchingly overrides what it is trying to say. All of the finely crafted lyrics by the Tool men had to be looked up because the vocals are a blurry gravy overwhelmed by the potatoes and meat of the music. The vocals are given no priority and as a result, Keenan's singing at best sounds like it is coming from a distance away, sublimated down a tunnel of sound by the thrashing guitars and banging drums.

Moreover, Keenan's vocals are so lost and/or overproduced that it is virtually impossible to evaluate his singing voice. Does he sing like an angel? Could he knock Pavoratti out with his range and depth? Who knows, one can barely hear him on any single track on this album! One suspects, then, that he is either not proud or not comfortable with his vocal range, but whatever the motivation for burying the lyrics and singing voice underneath the blase electric instrumentals, it seems intellectually cheap. Everyone in the genre seems to do it. Electronically-altered vocals, chaotic, noisy music, you name it it is an excuse to minimize the importance of what the artists are trying to say. It's like all heavy metal wants to fit in and the way to do that is create a monotonous wall of sound which avid listeners have to peek over to hear anything truly brilliant as far as content.

Everyone deserves better than that. What's the point of biting, insightful lyrics if they are drown out by boring and obvious guitar riffs. The closest song to have lyrics one can actually hear and discern is "10,000 Days (Wings Pt. 2)." Unfortunately, after having a few lines where Keenan's voice is clear, it degenerates into a Bush-like guitar sound that puts several minutes of the same few chords echoing throughout the remainder of the long track. It is an odd combination of angry and original and utterly pedestrian, like it came from the recommended progressions straight from the heavy metal handbook.

And largely the album does not sound exciting. The guitars are presented with consistency and there is not single melody that can be picked out of this album after one has listened to it (as I write this, I am on the eighth listen and I know that within a week someone could play me a song from this very album and I would never recognize it. After an original opening with vocals presented front and center on "The Pot," for example, the song becomes a guitar riff I know I've heard elsewhere before and unimaginative drumming that does nothing more than keep time.

Who might like Tool's 10,000 Days? Those who want to feel monotonous darkness and the impression of angry or disaffected will dig this album. But those wanting to actually hear an album about being disaffected and angry will have to listen elsewhere: the lines on this album are not comprehensible enough to get all that out of it.

The best track might well be "Right In Two," the low point is the utterly unmemorable "Jambi."

For other new music, please check out my reviews of:
Bomb In A Birdcage - A Fine Frenzy
Dusk And Summer - Dashboard Confessional
Many Great Companions - Dar Williams


For other music reviews, please check out my index page by clicking here! That will take you to an organized list with plenty of great review links!

© 2010, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

| | |

No comments:

Post a Comment