Monday, September 28, 2015

Album Review: The Toadies - Heretics

In the nineties I always ran The Toadies parallel alongside Foo Fighters as just a straight-up fun rock n' roll/pop-punk band that emerged from the early rotting stages of the flower that was Grunge. Only difference being a lack of true commercial success on their part in comparison to those which I deemed their wingmen, which either forced them to stay the course, or their staying the course forced commercial success away from them. Mind you I don't have a very deep pocket of bands I pull from when it comes to this kind of music, because to be honest I don't indulge in it all that often, so for me these two are the heavy hitters and that's about it for that niche'. But just like their aforementioned contemporaries (Foo Fighters - if you're not following along here) released a retrospective acoustic album spanning their career thus far in 2006 (Skin and Bones), which included the infusion of new, more eclectic instrumentation into old songs reimagined acoustically as well as brand new songs written specifically for the performance, Toadies - twenty years into their career - have done the same.

The band took it upon themselves to celebrate their two decade existence by recording a studio version of an annual acoustic weekend that the band hosts in their native state of Texas called 'Dia De Los Toadies'. But don't let that light-heartedness fool you - if there is one thing the Toadies have always had a knack for it's spinning very dark first-first person narratives into bouncy and accessible feel good rock music: 'Tyler', 'Jigsaw Girl', and their calling card 'Possum Kingdom' are all prime examples of this - all of which appear on Heretics. And all of which almost seem darker and more emotive when stripped away from their red-level volumes and slowed down to a more sinister, and plotted thought (though 'Possum Kingdom' in it's original form still feels superior in my opinion). Low brass and keyboards accentuate the acoustic skeletons, thickening up the bones with swampy southern chunks of mud and re-visioning some songs with angles of lounge-like slipperiness ('The Appeal' and 'Dollskin'), and infusing others with back-alley jazz grooves and bluegrass ('Backslider', 'Beside You').

There are also a handful of new songs here, one of which being a down-tempo cover of Blondie's 'Heart Of Glass'. The almost-danceable 'In The Belly Of The Whale' opens the album, while 'Queen Of Scars' sounds like such a trademark Toadies song that you'll forget you're listening to a specifically acoustic record, as it's hard to imagine the track any other way. The closer, 'Send You To Heaven', fantastically carries on that serial killer-in-the-sun knack of darkly spun trains of thought all gussied up as accessible pop that I adore from the band. I was hoping the final notes would be the ravenous ending of the song that the group recorded but never released (heavier than any moment on any Toadies record) as an anvil-like juxtaposition to the softness that preceded it. Yet the riding out of "The Beatles and The Stones" sung so melodically begins to feel less like a pretty little hitchhiker's musical predilection that will wind up signing her death warrant only twenty miles down the road, and more like the overwhelming submission to a dark and primal instinct from our narrator's point of view as he frantically digs past "the beetles and the stones" after the deed is done. Maybe I'm revealing a bit too much about my own fucked-upness here.

Heretics comes off in it's totality as a deeper perspective on a band that's often seemed to toy in musically shallow waters (not that their music is shallow - it's a euphemism), it's an unfolding of new dimensions from the group. Some songs stand on their own even though other versions of them exist on other albums, and some seem inferior to their original counterpart. I'd definitely recommend to any Toadies fan as both a retrospective to their career as well as an appreciation to the subtle nuances and textures they add here that propel them to another level in a different genre than the one they seem the most comfortable in. If you be a new-comer to the Toadies this probably isn't the place to start, as this batch of songs without the knowledge of how they were just doesn't have the strength to make you want to hear the originals, or may just lead you to bands who specialize in this sort of thing and therefore probably do it better. The fact that the band toys lyrically with themes of obsession, homicide, and self-defeatism does add a uniqueness to the over-all product here as this is something that's typically rare from bands who may specialize in this kind of music and always adds a ying to the yang when the right rock band pulls something like Heretics off. So if that is your cup of tea, I recommend it - otherwise, check out Hell Below/Stars Above.


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