Tool - 10,000 Days (Volcano/Zomba CD)
Five years ago Tool released "Lateralus". Five years before that they released "Aenima". Five before that they released "Undertow". What's the moral here? The fucking Olympics come around more often than Tool does. So, five years after "Lateralus" and we're due. The train arrives on schedule. And drops this from its cargo deck. First of all, right off the bat, let's talk about the packaging on this mutha. Tool out-do themselves with every album release, but here they've out-done most of the Western hemisphere. The gatefold-style sleeve folds out into stereoscopic lenses (!) and the idea is you prop up the album in front of your schnozz, peeping through these lenses, reading all the album info and looking at the artwork in 3D. Words can't justify how righteous it is to see Maynard James Keenan extending a glass of wine out of the picture and into your FACE.
But! Let's not judge a book by its cover. How does the music stack up? Well if you were a Tool fan before, "10,000 Days" shouldn't do anything to put you off the band forever. On the other hand, if you're one of those indie rock review sites (read: all of them) who get scared when songs start topping 6 minutes, it'll do little do sway you in the band's favor.
The whole shebangabang opens with the single "Vicarious", a prog rock heavyweight that is almost too reminiscent of the previous album's lead-off single "Schism". "Vicarious" packs much more epic bombast and contains a real master-blaster of an outro. "Jambi" follows and is another one of the "heavier" Tool selections (it may or may not also be named after a character on the Pee-Wee Herman TV series). These tunes match up admirably to, say, "Parabola" or "Aenema" from the Tool canon. Unfortunately the album's pacing falter's on the next two, "Wings for Marie (Part 1)" and "10,000 Days (Wings Part 2)". Combined they form a 17-minute moody dirge, presumably Maynard's magnum opus and ode to his mother, whose illness and subsequent passing were the inspiration for most of the album (she was sick for about 10,000 days prior to her death, apparently). Things finally pick up steam during "Wings Part 2" but the payoff isn't grand enough and the tracks only serve to grind things to a total stand-still after the first two quicker-paced tracks.
One of the weirdest songs Tool has ever done (and I mean "song", not stuff like "Faaip de Oiad" or "Disgustipated") is "The Pot" during which Maynard accuses someone of...being high. As you do. But it's also the most straight-forward track on the album and has "second single" written all over it. Also, it rocks.
After the mystickal chanting and screaming that consists of the filler track "Lipan Conjuring", shit gets karayzie with the duo of "Lost Keys (Blame Hofmann)" and "Rosetta Stoned". This is, in no uncertain terms, by far the crowning achievement of the album and one of the best pieces of music Tool have ever put to tape. "Lost Keys" is an intro to the 11-minute "Stoned" and the muffled voice of a doctor can be made out asking a patient to speak up and explain what his problem is (not unlike Anthony Hopkins in the Elephant Man!). What would come off as lame and cheesy in any other band works brilliantly with Tool as Maynard launches into a baffling, comical, nonsensical rant about extra-terrestrials. Dig these "lyrics":
"Began at 2 AM, and after eating an entire box of Krispy Kremes, at my need-to-know post just outside Area 51 contemplating the whole "chosen people" thing when a flaming, stealth banana split the sky, like, wide open. I never expected to see it in a place like this. I do believe I spilled a diet soda or something right on my Birkenstocks. Then yelping holy fucking shit!"
Decidedly un-Tool like, especially considering the song ends with the line "goddamn, shit the bed" repeated several times. But it works, man.
But of the last three tracks, only the middle one "Right in Two" is a keeper, and another one of Tool's best to date. The final track (usually one of the best reasons for even listening to a Tool album) "Viginti Tres" is 5 minutes of noisy, ambient, soundscapes...but I'm told if you use an MP3-editing program you can stick "Tres" on the end of "Wings for Marie (Part 1)" and then play that mish-mash over "Wings Part 2"...and apparently this summons the ice goddess Shiva into raining destruction down upon the planet. I'll have to try it sometime.
As far as Tool albums go, this is a strange one. I would call it Tool's calmest to date, though that's deceiving as Justin, Danny and Adam are firing on all cylinders on tracks like "Rosetta Stoned" and "The Pot". It features some of Tool's best work, but also some of their weakest. Maynard's lyrics are probably the most literal they've ever been in Tool, and that can be a bit off-putting at times. But the good news is that we have five more years to wrap our collective grey matter around it. See you in 2011.