Saturday, November 20, 2010

Short And Unmemorable, Opiate Is Tool's Legitimate Crisis Of Faith, But A Lousy Album.

The Good: Deep, murky instrumental sound, Some good lyrics
The Bad: Short, Yelled vocals are unimpressive, Instrumentally derivative, Produced so lyrics cannot easily be heard.
The Basics: Short, instrumentally unimpressive and too frequently vocally garbled, Opiate fails to land its otherwise wonderful messages.

As I listen to what is likely to be my final Tool album, whatwith my library's inability to get me more in and having managed to pretty much exhaust the works of Maynard James Keenan this April, I find myself thinking of how I envy musical artists. It is relatively inexpensive to produce one's own c.d. and find places to perform and once people hear it, it if resonates with them, you can immediately build a fanbase. It's a medium which requires far less patience than writing novels or developing a television show. Tool's e.p. Opiate seems to be proof of that for me.

Opiate is a very limited work, but it was clearly enough for Tool to use to begin building its fanbase and get its recording contract from. The little album found its audience and the audience helped to illustrate a market need that Tool was filling and while I respect the effort and some of the talent involved, it is hard not to objectively look at Opiate and think that it was a recording that got lucky. The album has some initial creativity, but in the larger body of Tool's works and the works of Maynard James Keenan, it is utterly forgettable.

With only six tracks occupying 26:54, Opiate is very much the work of the metal band Tool. All of the songs were written by the band and Maynard James Keenan provides all of the primary vocals. The guitars, bass and drums were performed by bandmembers Adam Jones, Paul D'Amour, and Danny Carey. The band even co-produced the album, which consists of four studio tracks and two live songs ("Cold And Ugly" and "Jerk-Off").

Musically, Opiate sounds very much like what it actually is, a simple collection of guitar, bass and drum tracks. The percussion pounds from the opening of "Sweat" and doesn't let up until the end of the song "Opiate," so Danny Carey is constantly working through this album. But beyond the percussion, the guitar and bass work is so generic as to be unmemorable. The guitars and bass thrash and it's clear the men are playing them and they create an auditory wall of force with the sound, but there is nothing like a melody being produced. The result is angsty rock tracks which are expressive and angry, but not at all hummable and are very hard to describe outside defining them as thrashing guitars. The lack of memorable tunes is ultimately unsatisfying.

Similarly, the vocals on Opiate are largely unimpressive. The album features Keenan singing - or, more frequently, wailing - out his lyrics and while he is expressive, the vocals are often produced to be sublimated so far below the instrumental accompaniment that few of them can actually be understood. Outside "I am frightened, too" ("Cold And Ugly") very few of the lines are actually comprehensible (though, until I looked up the lyrics, I swore the line was "I am Franklin, too!"). Keenan's vocals are the lower registers of his range on Opiate and as a result, the album has a very masculine and aggressive sound.

But the lack of comprehensibility of the lyrics is the true death knell of Opiate. Tool clearly has something to say and it is unfortunate that they do not want it heard clearly. The band sings of angst in relationships and they have some truly inspired poetry. The lines "Underneath her skin and jewelry, / Hidden in her words and eyes / Is a wall that's cold and ugly / And she's scared as hell. / Trembling at the thought of feeling. / Wide awake and keeping distance. / Nothing seems to penetrate her. / She's scared as hell. / I am frightened too" ("Cold And Ugly") are beautiful and real and the rawness of the human emotion is uncommon in popular music today.

As well, Tool presents socially and religiously satirical lines with songs like "Jerk-Off." Taking a literalist view of an angry god, Keenan sings of dispensing justice against those who are wrong and do wrongs. Angrily singing "Someone told me once / That there's a right and wrong, / Punishment would come to those / Who dare to cross the line. / But it must not be true / For jerk-offs just just like you. / Maybe it's just bullshit and I should play GOD, / And shoot you myself. / Because I'm tired of waiting" ("Jerk-Off"), Keenan makes fairly clear his disdain for the way religion is used as, well, a tool. It's a shame so few of the actual lines can actually be clearly understood to truly wrench those hypocrites who might kill in the name of a pacifistic god.

Regardless, the songs on Opiate might do better as a poetry book for all their musical originality and flavor. Sure, the EP is angsty and clearly emotional, but the album replays poorly because it is so short and is instrumentally nothing special or even interesting.

The best track is "Cold And Ugly," the low point is the unmemorable "Part Of Me."

For other works by Maynard James Keenan, please check out my reviews of:
Undertow - Tool
Aenima - Tool
10,000 Days – Tool
Mer De Noms - A Perfect Circle
Thirteenth Step – A Perfect Circle
eMOTIVE - A Perfect Circle
V Is For Vagina - Puscifer


For other music reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

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

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