When groups reunite after a number of years, there’s always mixed emotions. There’s the initial thrill of something you love becoming a part of your life again. But there’s also that trepidation about whether the initial magic can be recaptured or just exist as a shadow of its former self.
Deep in the heart of Texas The Toadies are proving with their new album Play.Rock.Music. that the second time around can have just as much vitality and creative spark as the initial run.
This triumphant return wasn’t always such a certain thing. Their 2008 comeback album No Deliverance was met with mixed reactions. While some celebrated the return of the band and found plenty to love, many longtime fans didn’t like it, feeling it strayed too far from the Toadies feel. It’s certainly understandable. Songs like “I Am A Man of Stone” and “Song I Hate” seem like tunes that would be more at home on a Burden Brothers album. Despite this, tracks like “Hell In High Water” with its sinister boogie and the tragic suicide tale of “One More” crackled with energy, proving some of that initial spark was still left in the engine.
On the concert front, the band never faltered, delivering top-notch, fist-pumping performances of rock catharsis. Almost as an act of goodwill, or perhaps just an excuse to get the songs back in the live set-list, they released Feeler—a re-recorded version of their “lost” 1997 album rejected by Interscope as the follow-up to the platinum-selling Rubberneck. Finally those brilliant songs saw the light of day and fans everywhere rejoiced. As if all of that wasn’t enough, since returning the band puts on an annual festival celebrating their enduring existence as well as the awesomeness that is Texas rock and roll. In essence, the band is now a well-oiled machine.
The Toadies’ Get Low
This has enabled them to create such a damn good album—one that probably wasn’t possible until now. The band has found their groove on this album, veering wildly between raw blues-influenced boogie and the squalling fury and angst of their post-grunge days. “Rattler’s Revival” starts things off right as lead singer Vaden asks us to “shake it like rattler,” simultaneously encouraging wiggling hips and expunging all emotion. The adrenaline doesn’t stop there as “Get Low” blasts you with alternative rock so passionate one could almost imagine it fitting on Rubberneck. It’s that good. Their first single “Summer of the Strange” throbs with intensity and vivid imagery that befits its title.
The pace slows as the moody “Magic Bullet” contemplates that x factor that causes people to do the things they do. Things stay contemplative as “Beside You” conveys a passionate message of devotion to his daughter. Don’t let its slow tempo fool you though; it positively smolders with purpose. Personally, this song ends of the first “side” or half of the album, regardless of run time. The first half of the album is intense and gets more personal with each track. It’s a tour-de-force.
The second half of the album is much lighter in tone, starting with the lustful romp “Animals” that’s about…well, probably what you think it’s about. It’s got a great juke joint stomp and easily one of the most concert-ready songs of the batch, with built-in moments of audience participation with some well-placed “hey! hey!”. “Sunshine” is a slow-burn rocker that gets under your skin from the first listen and one of the best songs on the album. It’s not quite as cheery as its title would imply, but who can complain when the guitar parts are such undeniable bursts of classic Toadies. By this point in the album, you’re completely sold, so it’s safe to throw a curve-ball into the mix. Remember that bizarre song “They’re Coming to Take Me Away” that pops up frequently on Halloween mixes?
That’s the closest analogue one can conjure for this song’s verses. It sounds like the inside of an insane person’s mind, swirling with demonic voices. When combined with the slow blues-swagger of the chorus it’s a certifiably one of the weirdest, but most inventive songs in the band’s catalog.
If madness isn’t your idea of levity, maybe the various character narratives delivered in the style of Cake on “Epic Castles” are more up your alley. Musically it’s like the Toadies doing Talking Heads and it’s a fun ride that also takes the band’s sound to new places. Burden Brothers influence pops up in “We Burned The City Down,” but not in the same way it appeared on No Deliverance. It has that sense of outlaw boogie, but definitely puts it through much more of a Toadies filter, sounding like the raucous sequel to “City of Hate.” Lyrically it’s something you could imagine young and brash Johnny Cash singing.
The Toadies’ Beside You
There’s one thing this band understands well that not everybody does: the importance of a good album closer. The sincerity and emotion from the first half of the record returns on the closing track “The Appeal.” It lacks the haunting and visceral punch of past closer “Doll Skin,” but what it lacks in that it more than makes up for in plainspoken earnestness. Instead of dressing up a difficult situation in esoteric metaphors, Vaden admits outright that he’s messed in this relationship, things are difficult but he’s doing his best and making the titular appeal, asking for forgiveness. For a man that’s spent the majority of his lyrical career in angst, blame and fury, it’s a big step.
It is at this point you realize what’s so satisfying about this set: it retains enough of the past to feel genuine, but pushes the band and lyrics to new and exciting places that make it feel fresh. This is the triumphant Toadies return that you’ve been waiting for. If No Deliverance is the sound of a band trying to reclaim their mojo, Play.Rock.Music. is that mojo fully realized, standing tall as one of the best albums of their career.
Written by Jarad Matula
OurVinyl | Senior Writer
To read our interview with The Toadies’ lead signer Vaden Todd Lewis, click here.
Photos by Matt Cooper, courtesy of Kirtland Records