One of the most frequently used phrases in the peculiar lexicon of the music business is "touring in support of." What that deceptively clinical term means is that a record label is forcing a band to sleep in rickety vans, play empty clubs and do long-distance telephone interviews for the purpose of selling records. Despite the possibility of this strategy's backfiring--if a band is a lousy live act or even has an off-night, record sales plummet--touring in support of" remains a non-negotiable part of a group's contract.
Four of this week's upcoming shows are "touring in support of." We decided to allow the records these acts are pushing to do the talking.
Anyone interested in unraveling the anxieties of the slacker-twentynothing set should get a whiff of Tool, the newest noisy deconstruction crew out of L.A.
The six songs hammered out on Opiate, the band's debut disc, are at once angry, psychotic, bitter, confused and flush with the selfishness of postmodern stress overload. These postpunks are pissed--and they appear to mean it, man.
Lead singer-screamer Maynard James Keenan sounds like Sam Kinison a day after death on such crazed anthems as "Cold and Ugly" and "Jerk-Off," both performed in a live setting, both infused with a bubbling dementia. "Jerk-Off," for instance, features Keenan as a frazzled, latter-day Everyman: "Consequences dictate my course of action," he sings softly, with a palpable constraint. Soon thereafter Keenan explodes into a full-blown rage: "Maybe I should just play God and shoot you myself," he screams. "I'm tired of waiting."
Even more effective is Opiate's title track, a brooding profile of a religious mind gone helter-skelter. "It's God's will," Keenan sings calmly. "He speaks through me/He has needs/Just like I do. . . ." The ominous vocals are backed by boffo guitar work from Adam Jones and a rhythm section (bassist Paul D'Amour and drummer Danny Carey) that can pummel with the best of em.
Opiate's not perfect. There's too much speed-metal thumpa-thumpa-thumpa filling space between ideas. And the CD closes with lamebrained drug and satanic references that almost nullify everything beforehand.
Apart from the goofiness, though, Tool appears to be the missing link between Jane's Addiction's old art habits and the more distorted brain chemistry of the Scratch Acid-Jesus Lizard crowd.
Tag Opiate as one of the better CDs of the season.--Ted Simons
Tool will perform on Thursday, July 16, at After the Gold Rush in Tempe, with the Rollins Band. Showtime is 8:30 p.m.
In the beginning, the Byrds begat Dream Syndicate and Dream Syndicate begat a classic album, The Days of Wine and Roses. Although it sounded a lot like the Velvets, only noisier, Days inspired many. But, alas, that record was also the high-water mark in the band's fascination with noise. From then on, Dream Syndicate and its chief songwriter, the dry, nasal-voiced Steve Wynn, got more predictable and more conventional. By its last studio record, Ghost Stories, Dream Syndicate's music was full of straightforward song structures and intelligible (but still wonderfully nonsensical) lyrics.
On Dazzling Display, his second solo record since Dream Syndicate's demise, Steve Wynn continues his trek toward mainstream popdom. Happily, he's retained a few noisy touches for any old fans who may be lurking.
Wynn's greatest strength is still his words--weird, singsong, stream-of-consciousness words that easily outrun his melodies. Most also continue Wynn's favorite themes of alienation and disconnection, though now in a personal rather than public vein. "It wasn't supposed to go down like that," he sings in the title cut. "Flashes lit up the sky/Unseen by the public eye."
At times Wynn's well-known fascination with Dylan (and Lou Reed) creeps in. The tune "Dandy in Disguise" opens with lines that could have come from the Basement Tapes: "When he was born, he was scorned, it was sworn that he'd end up no good."
As on Dream Syndicate's records, noise often provides the most vital moments on Dazzling Display. Opening with a rumbling, ultrafunk bass line, the title tune builds to an edgy, appealing tirade in which Wynn's often characterless voice takes on a personality of its own. Aided by R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and his omnipresent 12-string, Dazzling Display contains a couple of strummy, better-than-average pop tunes. "Tuesday," with its sweet but uncredited harmonica lick, is easily this album's best. There are surprisingly few missteps here. "Bonnie & Clyde" is the first and, one hopes, the last attempt at an alternative historical epic. And at times, Wynn's attempts at easy-to-digest pop can be cloying. For example, this album's final number, "Close Your Eyes," is entirely too joyous. It's the kind of tune you expect to include either a harmonica or a glockenspiel. Instead we get more Peter Buck, some very tasty organ by Peter Lang and even a violin and a cello.