Album Review: Tool – Undertow
1993 was a big year for music; the birth of Suede, the original Guns ‘n’ Roses played their last gig, Nirvana’s famous MTV unplugged performance and Tool released their debut full-length album. Tool are a very alternative band, who make music for themselves and their own passion and emotion. Their music is intelligent, witty and very unique and the lyrics are based on the opinions and thoughts of Maynard James Keenan.
The album starts with an ambient fluttering panning from left to right, before it throws you right into the intricate work of the musicians with the first song ‘Intolerance’. The song is based on western society and how it’s locked people into two places; with or against each other. James uses lines such as ‘And I want to have faith to put away the dagger, but you lie, cheat, and steal’, and many other lines which influence the idea he is targeting the government itself. ‘Prison sex’ is the next up, based on child abuse (a very controversial topic), and the hypocrites and vengeful characters such crimes might create. ‘Do unto others what has been done to you’ is a good hint of the psychology involved.
The music of this album is all very similar, but no way bad. They use the similarity to make the entire album one large piece of art, instead of 10 pieces of art. Some of the smartest music I hear is by this band, and this album is a good example of the intelligence involved in their writing. Sober is the next song, opening with a heavy bass chord, concentrating on the rhythm of the instrumentation. Again, James’ lyrics are very subtle and personal, with lots of reference to religion and it’s disappearance and sudden unpopularity in society. His lyrics are a very good example of his creativity and intellect, are very versatile and can be perceived in so many ways. With a climax and abrupt stop, the song is finished, leading on to Bottom, a much grungier song, with lots of timing confusions and interesting production techniques. This song is supposedly based on James’ fight with drug addiction. Around the middle, a bridge lets James take a break for a spoken word section, where he shows off his poetic abilities, which eventually lead you into the crazy outro of the song, making you want to run around screaming and waving your arms around.
Not even half way through the album, and I’m nearly on 400 words. With room for only one more song, I chose the title song, ‘Undertow’. This track is a very interesting track, tripping in and out of different moods and emotions. James’ lyrics are, once again, not particularly user friendly and use a lot of metaphorical interpretation, but as the saying goes, ‘Meaning is in the eye of the beholder’. The song subtly builds up brick by brick, each brick getting heavier and darker than the last. The ending is intense, sending shivers down your spine as James expresses more passion and emotion, while the music continues to lay darker and heavier bricks, making some of the best musicians today look like children playing at being ‘rock stars’.
In conclusion, this band is impressive beyond understanding. The album, as brilliant as it is, does go on a little too long and can cut itself down a lot, but I imagine the band put it there for some symbolism. Tool are a very unique band, almost heavy-metal jazz, that started off their career with a brilliant example of their abilities. Their later albums (Aenima, Lateralus, 10000 days) show more intelligence, involving mathematics and numerology within James’ lyricism and more complex timing techniques. A much appreciated band.