Toad The Wet Sprocket was a big part of my angst-ridden late teens. The California-based quartet made their commercial breakthrough with Fear when I was 15, and songs like “All I Want” (as poppy and melodic as I was) and “I Will Not Take These Things For Granted” resonated with me more than even Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder at the time. Eddie, at least, eventually caught up. The connection I had to Toad’s songs was certainly assisted by the fact that lead singer/songwriter Glen Phillips was closer to my age than either of the two grunge icons were, having started his career as a recording artist before even graduating high school.
For those of y’all that need a bit of a back history: Toad was a big deal for most of the ’90s. They quietly went on hiatus at the end of the decade, occasionally regrouping for live performances but not releasing any new music. Glen, in particular, released a series of solo albums and continued playing shows around the country. Back in 2009, Toad more or less reunited fully and once again hit the road. They also released an album of their own songs, re-recorded, before finally heading back into the studio to record their sixth album of new material.
So, I know you’re thinking something to the effect of “’90s band reunites, makes an album. Toad’s gonna sound like a shell of their former selves. Right?” Wrong. Let me be the first to assure you-not only has Toad The Wet Sprocket made an album that’s the sonic equal of Fear & Dulcinea, they may have actually made the best album of their career with New Constellation.
New Constellation is sort of stuck in time-which isn’t an indictment at all. I’m trying to say that in an alternate universe, it could’ve easily been recorded and released maybe 3 or 4 years after P.S.: A Toad Retrospective marked their original swan song in 1999 as opposed to having shown up sixteen years after their last studio album. The production makes no concessions to modern trends, the songwriting is still top notch, and if Top 40 radio was still receptive to the melodic rock that’s the Toad trademark, songs like the bouncy title track and “The Moment” (my favorite track on the album) would be massive hits.
It would be easy to say that New Constellation is Toad’s “happy” album, as it certainly has the lightest feel of any album in the band’s catalog, but as a guy in his mid-late thirties, I hear a lot of angst in the lyrics still, and I can relate to it more than I (now) can relate to the older lyrics. There’s an undercurrent of positivity even in the darkest songs. I’d be remiss to not point out the fact that, for those who haven’t been paying attention, Glen Phillips still sounds (and looks) quite boyish, but life experience has certainly seeped into his vocals, and the band’s lyrics. There’s a “been there” vibe that makes the entire album extremely relatable in addition to just being a joy to listen to.
As much of a fan as I was back in the day, I have to say I’m somewhat taken aback by how much I enjoy New Constellation. It strikes the perfect balance between sing-along melodies and affecting lyrics. Wanna listen actively? You’ll enjoy it. Wanna listen passively? You’ll enjoy it.
Let’s hope the next album doesn’t take sixteen years to be released. Although I’m sure that even in their late fifties and early sixties, Toad The Wet Sprocket will have something interesting to say.