All right, now, this bullshit has to stop. First Joey Ramone dies. Then comes word from E! Entertainment that Duran Duran is re-forming, in its original lineup. And a week after that, New Jersey's Monmouth University gives Jon Bon Jovi an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. (To be honest, I'm taking that last one personally. Just three weeks ago I myself became a fully papered Doctor of American Literature, the kind where you attend classes and write a dissertation and stuff. You cannot know how it galls me to be a member of Jon Bon's graduating class, nor how it pains my dear sainted mother.) All this, mind you, in fewer than 30 days.
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Clearly we're in for a summer of unparalleled horrors, a Dry White Season full of evil omens and maybe even one or two actual Biblical plagues. So I'm going to barricade myself in the house, sit bolt upright in a straight-backed chair facing the front door, and I'm going to surround myself with all my knives and about three gallons of Wild Turkey, and I'm going to play Raw Power and Kick Out the Jams at full blast, and I ain't coming out until the world is at least halfway right again. Into the hole I'm also taking Lateralus, and I'm not alone; so are all my like-minded paranoids who passed over R.E.M. and Weezer last Tuesday, at Zia in Tempe (see this week's Bash & Pop), in favor of Tool's dainty black rose.
Especially when considered alongside 1996's dense, sample-and-effects-heavy Aenima, Lateralus is closer in spirit and form to the sparse, terrifying Undertow, Tool's 1993 debut. It's crisply recorded, immaculately played, and startlingly melodic, considering what band we're talking about here. Like Undertow, this 77-minute cycle concerns itself with the determined uncovering of the sources of (their, your, my, anyone's) terrible pain, with a view to expunging it: "I know the pieces fit/'cause I watched them fall away," sings Maynard Keenan on "Schism," in a voice that suggests he can barely contain his -- anger? Anguish? Again, as on Undertow, those elements are indistinguishable on Lateralus. And the trembling tension between them, buoyed along by the band's stiletto-sharp musicianship -- the same lineup as on Aenima, but somehow more protean, and a hell of a lot more confident -- provides the album's overarching context.
Like its two predecessors, Tool's latest was recorded in Hollywood, and it's a record that sounds like it emerged from the last place on Earth for the most desperate people in the world. Short version, Lateralus is a good album -- hard, angry, complicated, desperate, smart -- and it arrives at the perfect moment. That's the nut of it, you see; that's the reason all us fuck-ups bought the record the day it came out. Keenan's ragged voice, full-forward in the mix, whispering, "There is so much more that beckons me/To look through to these/Infinite possibilities" proves that music can be more than a beat behind a cute hardbody ass-shake. It can be cathartic. It can cry and scream at the same time. And it can give speech to (your, my, anyone's) desperate and inarticulate agony. That's enough, maybe, to ride us through this most arid of seasons.
Even so, if the summer starts to get really dangerous -- like if Columbia announces plans for the Culture Club Remasters or something -- I'd appreciate somebody just coming over to the house and putting a round in the back of my head, like George did for Lenny in Of Mice and Men. I don't want to live in a world like that.