I just bought a CD called Opiate, the what-should-have-been-eponymous debut album from a band called Tool. Clearly the work of lightweights, the album only weighs in at 34 minutes, and can perhaps be best summed up by track #1's lyrics from this year's winner of the Pretentious Use of a Middle Name award, Maynard James Keenan.
seems like I've been here before, seems so familiar
With only six tracks to choose from, you would hope that the band is only bringing their A shit to the table. But either Tool doesn't have any A shit, or they're saving it to release in a couple of years. The first track, "Sweat", is a sad Los Angeles take on the Seattle grunge movement that happened a decade earlier. Drop-D tuning so went out with flannel, guys. The song seems to be about deja vu of some kind. I don't get it, is this a concept album called "help, I'm trapped in the early nineties"?
Surprisingly, Tool's label actually let them produce a video for the second track, Hush. I think the video is supposed to be an avant-garde/sarcastic political statement about Parental Advisory stickers. The song itself has a "fuck you, I'll sing whatever I want" attitude, which might have been interesting before Marilyn Manson and Eminem made it passe.
The third track, Part of Me, is a stalker-esque look at romance in the Big City. Gee. Four guys form a band and they sing about how fucked up their relationships with their women are. I've never seen that formula before. As with the other tracks on this album, the music is very much in an early Rage Against the Machine / Helmet style, but without Rage's injection of a little hip-hop/funk feel, and without Helmet's timeliness.
Helping to prove how little A game this band can bring, the fourth and fifth tracks are live takes, with the ever-cleverly-named Maynard James Keenan providing gratuitous swearing to start the songs. This stuff is a little faster paced than the studio tracks, which could have made it interesting, but unfortunately the angry lyrical sentiments are straight out of Limp Bizkit. In this post 911 world, even Fred Durst realized that the time for being a hater is over -- and yet these jerks somehow think they can pull it off with back-to-back live songs about people they hate.
The album closes with one more studio track, Opiate. More of the same from a band that's clearly a product of their time -- their time being about a decade before they were good enough with their instruments to get signed to a decent label. And they close it with a hidden track, six minutes and six seconds into the sixth track (oh look, a 666, we weren't supposed to notice that), some trash about Satan and drugs and boredom. The disaffected pop-as-satanic-rock thing was tired by the time Judas Priest got bored with it, so this album closed leaving me as unimpressed as I began.
Don't get me wrong, Tool would have been a talented, edgy band had they released this album ten years ago. I might have even been able to believe that the hidden track was intentionally subversive and over-the-top. But released in 2002, this album comes off as flat and uninspired. They play with a lot of themes that have been used before. And where they did decide to dip their toe into the water of political music, they did it by taking on an issue (censorship and advisory labels) that hasn't been a controversy for nearly a decade. The guitarist has some chops -- if he could adapt his style to something just a little more modern, like Staind or Creed -- he might be able to find luck doing backup guitar for another, more innovative band.
In closing, Tool's debut album is a little past its sell-by date. That proves to this critic that Tool has very little song-writing talent, and that if they do manage to get a record label to let them release a follow-up, it will be nothing worth my time to review.
-- Mark in Minnesota