Toad The Wet Sprocket
They've got a name that makes people roll their eyes and assume the worst. They've had a handful of Top 40 hits, but they could walk unmolested and anonymously down any street you'd care to name. They're a band that cares more about the integrity of their music than the airplay it receives. They're Toad the Wet Sprocket, and they're back with their fifth studio album (sixth, if you count In Light Syrup, the 1996 collection of B-sides that spawned the country rock gallop hit "Good Intentions")
It's been three years since the band's last regular LP, Dulcinea. In the interim, singer Glenn Phillips has had a couple kids, drummer Randy Guss had a child of his own while working in another band as a "hired gun" and bassist Dean Dinning and guitarist Todd Nichols worked on building a home studio — which the band then used to record much of its new CD. The time off — the first long stretch the band has taken away from the road since releasing its first album Bread and Circus in 1989 — gave the members of Toad some time to sit back and evaluate their past work and consider their future directions. The result is a well rehearsed, often inspirational collection of a dozen songs, and one of their most cohesive records yet.
Opening with the personal confession of "Whatever I Fear" and closing with the philosophical lifemap of "All Things In Time," Coil is a gathering of heart, soul and, occasionally, even groin. The first single, "Come Down," slams along in that same meld of electric guitars, rock solid percussion and sweet vocal melody that turned "Fall Down" from Dulcinea into a hit. (Apparently to write a fast rockin' song Toad must use the word "Down" in the title).
"Dam Would Break" offers a bittersweet bit of soul cleansing bouyed by backing la-da-do vocals that are both charming and haunting at the same time. "Desire" subsequently cuts in with a grinding guitar rhythm as Phillips sings of raw "wanting" and of how "desire breeds desire." In typical Toad fashion, one of the album's catchiest melodic gems is also its meatiest lyrically: "Little Man Big Man" deftly avoids preachiness as Phillips sings of the moral difference between heroes and fools:
"Little man big man who came first
it's all in the places where we find our pride
if there was a soul lost by the road
who'd pass by
who'd take it home."
One of the album's most brooding tracks, "Little Buddha" also deals with abnormally "deep" fodder for a pop song. Against a warbling guitar line and minor chord strings, Phillips offers a central Buddhist tenet, "life is suffering" and eventually concludes "little buddha, smile on/it's only illusion, then you're gone."
Coil wraps up with "All Things In Time," a lyrical brother to Fear's "I Will Not Take These Things For Granted." In it, Phillips offers an inspired verse of reborn strength:
"I've been changing my mind
through with looking behind
it's a crash course in life
the best you can do is pass by
no getting out alive
I'll hold a light for you to see
all things in time, all you'll ever need."
There's actually a 13th song — "Silo Lullabye," which features orchestral strings — hidden on the CD, which is meant to only be heard by accessing the band's web site at www.houseoftoad.com, going to the section on Coil, and clicking on the song title. I've had no success accessing the web/CD audio/video link in the intended fashion on either a Mac or a PC, but IBM users can at least hear the song by clicking on the .mov file located in a folder on the disc.
Coil is one of the few albums you need to hear this summer.
Toad The Wet Sprocket played an energetic, loose show at Chicago's Metro on May 28 to a packed house. The band ran through their hits like ""Walk on the Ocean" and "All I Want" as well as some more obscure material, and even falsettoed their way through a joking cover of The Bee Gees' "More Than A Woman". Their current small club "Fan Appreciation" tour will soon wind down, and the band will be back playing large venues for the summer. They will be part of the H.O.R.D.E. tour which comes to the World Music Theater in Tinley Park on August 3.