1) They are unapologetic.
2) They are from Texas.
3) They create some of the best summer rock albums. Period.
I could probably end my review with ‘now go buy the album,’ but I’m all about doing the albums I review generally 500 words of justification.
If you can believe it, the band has actually been kicking around since 1989, but it wasn’t until the breakthrough ‘buzz bin,’ success of “Possum Kingdom,’ and the group’s major full-length debut, Rubberneck in 1994 before the band reached national status. That success was short-lived when Interscope rejected and shelved the band’s follow-up, Feeler (1997). Disenchanted, the band didn’t resurface with new music until 2001, when Hell Below, Stars Above proved to be the band’s first ‘swan song.’ Frontman Todd Lewis, went on to release two albums with his project Burden Brothers. In 2008, principal’s Lewis, drummer Mark Reznicek and guitarist Clark Voegler re-grouped and released the band’s third (or fourth, depending on how you look at it) full-length, No Deliverance. Feeler was completely re-recorded and released in 2010, more as a nod to their fans and to yesteryear than anything of true substance.
So here we are in 2012 with what should properly be referred to as, in my humble opinion, the all important fifth album. On this one, we see the band flexing their musical prowess and muscle in new directions.
The album starts with the one-two ‘close to the vest,’ punches of ‘Rattler’s Revenge,’ and ‘Get Low,’ – with the latter rivaling the best of the Toadies singles cannon. Catchy, quick, clean guitars and backing vocals – an alternative rock radio gem bringing back all of that good 90’s nostalgia. ‘Summer of the Strange,’ the first ‘official,’ single follows with a slinky bassline and Lewis demanding ‘Gimme back control, yeah…’ The track has some interesting time signatures to it. While familiar, I”m not sure it holds up as a true selection for a single.
‘Magic Bullet,’ muses about being able to make decisions faster in life. I would probably nominate ‘Beside You,’ as the next logical single – the Toadies version of a ballad. The track is driven by the bass line and rhythm guitar and a strong power chord filled chorus.
The Dire Straits-meet-ZZ-Top track, ‘Animals,’ follows and begins the second half of the album and this is where the experimentation with different styles/genre’s begins. ‘Sunshine,’ follows and is the quintessential Toadies slow-burn track. ‘My hands may be steady, but my heart is in my throat/I would give up anything to hold/you/Sunshine.’ Lewis is at his Texas best, part grisly guitar-playing desperado, part serial killer, simmering amidst a controlled rage.
‘Laments of a Good Man,’ is a comical play of words with a quirky bounce-along set of verses that give way to a bluesy, down-timed chorus. I can’t decide whether I love or hate ‘Epic Castles.’ It’s easily the cheesiest song The Toadies have ever written – we’re talking party band funk. I mean, the Red Hot Chili Peppers already have a slew of cover bands out there. This is house band bad. I guess I just like the words ‘Epic Castles.’ Why? I don’t know.
‘We Burned the City Down,’ while an acoustic track at heart that allows for an electric solo – is no sequel to Rubberneck’s ‘I Burn.’ For the band, it’s kind of stock. Anyone could have written this one. The album closes with ‘The Appeal,’ clocking in at just over six-minutes, the longest track on the album. While it’s a beautiful track – it might have been better served on either 2008’s No Deliverance or a Burden Brothers album.
All in all, it’s a decent stab at remaining relevant from a band that’s now over 20+ years in existence and still kicking. It’s stronger than No Deliverance but only brings the fire back in spurts. As a slightly more than casual fan, it still keeps me hungry for more and interested to see what they’ll do next. However, there have been some pretty strong comeback albums this year already and I’m afraid this one falls just short of reaching the bar that’s already been set.