Although I'm not one to brag, I like to think that I know a fair bit about music. I listen to a wide range of bands from a wide range of genres, I've found something to enjoy in each of them, and I'm no stranger to "weird", avant-garde music. While I'm not one of the people who regards Tool's previous two albums, Aenima
as among the best ever recorded, as many people on this site do, they're both good, solid albums. If the band had actually been told to cut Lateralus
to under an hour, I firmly think that it would be one of my favourite rock albums of the decade so far. My point is that I rather enjoy listening to Tool from time to time, and although the first response from some of you once you're done reading this will be to say that I can't comment on the album since I don't like the band, that's demonstrably false. Since 10,000 Days
leaked onto the Internet, I've been listening to it, waiting for the moment when I'd understand what people saw in it, waiting for a moment like the beginning of the climax of Lateralus
, or the opening riff to Aenema
, when Tool cut loose and showed that when they hit form they can be the best hard rock band out there. The good news is that there is one of those songs on here, in The Pot
, which is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the best things that the band has ever come out with. The bad news, is that The Pot
is in fact the only song on here that lives up to that standard. Vicarious
comes close to it, but they're the equivalent of the oases in a barren desert of dry, repetitive music, with large chunks of the album not only being skippable, but being virtually unmemorable.
A bold claim, and one for which I'm no doubt about to see my site ranking plummet. So, what's the biggest problem here? First and foremost, it's the way that the band seem to have decided against using Maynard Keenan as prominently as they have done on previous albums. Although opinion may be divided as to whether Keenan is one of the enigmatic musical geniuses of our time or not, there's a broad consensus that the man can sing. Even with relatively mediocre bands such as A Perfect Circle
that was the case, and arguably the defining characteristic of Tool's best moments has been his soaring, inspirational vocals. So why, in the name of all that is sacred, have his vocals been processed and downplayed for so much of this album? It's particularly notable on Jambi
(which completely contradicts the concept of progressive music, being pretty much a straightforward hard rock song with monotonous riffs and a complete lack of originality). Even on the album's centrepiece, the 17 minute Wings For Marie
suite, the listener is left constantly waiting for the explosion into life that was such a defining moment of Parabol/Parabola
, while Keenan murmurs in the background before finally becoming truly audible several minutes into the second part of the song. The song itself is one of the higher points of the album, with Keenan's voice eventually breaking through to deliver one of the performances of his career, and a lyrical content that's far more emotional than anything he's ever written before, but by that stage there's a very real danger of boredom with the song, even for those who like the band.
What the final 7 minutes or so of the Wings For Marie
suite does show is the fact that the band have finally given Adam Jones and Justin Chancellor an opportunity to spread their wings. While Maynard Keenan's vocals and Danny Carey's tribal drumming have been synonymous with the group through their last two studio albums, neither is as impressive here as they have been. When all four actually come together then Tool sound as good, if not better, than they ever have done before. But even when Keenan and Carey are misfiring, or operating at less than full potential, the redeeming feature for much of the album is the contribution made by Jones and Chancellor. This is particularly true of the second half of the album, which brings us onto another apparent flaw in the album. The tracklisting of 10,000 Days
is dreadful. Although there's been something circulating around the Internet saying that apparently the songs are meant to be played over each other in reverse order or something like that, it's really quite extraordinary how comparatively top-heavy the album is. Although Jambi
could have been cut without many tears being shed, and the first part of Wings For Marie
in particular drags, each and every one of the album's stand out moments comes inside the first five songs. There's no denying the fact that lead-off single Vicarious
sounds like Schism. When I first heard it, I was convinced that the opening minute of it was literally the band playing part of Schism
, but as that was such a great song I'm quite prepared to forgive and forget. While it's not the best moment here, it still serves as a fine opening to the album, and (although I doubt it was intentional) immediately tells the listener that 10,000 Days
is not going to be a giant leap forward from Lateralus
. But as soon as The Pot
ends, so too does the best bit of the album.
In all fairness, that partially reflects the fact that The Pot
is one of the best songs that Tool have ever recorded. If 10,000 Days (Wings Part 2)
sees the band at their most sensitive, than The Pot
shows them as being angry, and making a song that's the equivalent of the howl of Hooker With A Penis
, only...you know, good. The song also has Jones and Chancellor (once again) at their best, providing anyone listening to the album with some confusion about how exactly they're getting those noises out of their instruments. Effectively, The Pot
is one of the defining Tool songs, showing how they can write songs that are still long (it's 6 1/2 minutes) but which don't let up for one moment and display the instrumental skills of every member of the band.
And if that shows us the best of Tool, then you'd better believe that the next 2 songs show them at their very worst. Although we've all come to expect a certain amount of filler on Tool albums (recording the sound of a squeezed cat and using it as a song is filler, no matter how you spin it), the combination of Lipan Conjuring
and Lost Keys (Blame Hoffman)
are a waste of the studio time used to record them. Think some form of chanting and then the same slow, boring riff being played repeatedly before we hear a conversation between a nurse and a doctor. Five minutes of your life that you're never getting back. Ever. Admittedly, Rosetta Stoned
is an improvement over those two, in that it's actually a song rather than a profound exercise in ludicrous self-indulgence, but the vocals! Although they improve intermittently throughout the song, they frequently lapse into poor growling or even worse whining (both of which we know Maynard to be able to pull off), which greatly distracts from the fact that Justin Chancellor is once again holding everything together. The song has possibly become best known for the lyrical references to "shit
ting the bed", which come off as juvenile in the extreme, and the fact that it seems to be the band attempting to make a newer, better version of Third Eye
. That song, possibly more than any other, has entered legend as being the most undeniably "Tool" song to date, with it's length, riffs and interludes, and Rosetta Stoned
ultimately doesn't even hold a candle to it. Again, it's important to note that I like long songs and I like long songs by Tool, but when they're as derivative and uninspired as Rosetta Stoned
is, then I really have to draw the line somewhere.
Mercifully, two of the last three songs see us getting somewhere again. Intension
isn't the most interesting thing I've ever heard, and is very much in the vein of Disposition
, but it's a reasonably pleasant, relaxing song. While it's not bad in itself though, this is perhaps the key difference between it and it's counterparts on earlier Tool albums. Whereas with them you were constantly finding new things to notice on repeated listens, here you don't. You admire the inventive drumming of Danny Carey (and that's something missing from too much of the album), but where's the momentum? Where's the sense that the band worked on this for as long as they did, given the fact that the mid-section in particular sounds too much to me like the results of an in-studio jamming session? Right In Two
is the best song of the last six, being a combination of the powerful, driving band that's visible on The Pot
, and the more restrained group that make songs like Intension
. Not a bad song in its own right, but then again, even after listening to it several times I'm struggling to remember anything especially memorable in it.
It's hard not to interpret Vignti Tres
as being some kind of metaphor for the album. Even the most devout of Tool fans will probably concede that it's not especially interesting, and to my mind it's merely a holding soundscape, something to expand the album to nearer the maximum possible length. Although Tool haven't lost their way with this album, it's as if they've walked around in circles a few times, sat down again and are still trying to decide which way they want to go next (although given their rate of making albums, there has been speculation about whether there is a next album). Certainly, there are good points to this. Even if you're not a Tool fan, The Pot
, 10,000 Days (Wings Pt.2)
are all worth downloading. The problem is that by my count just under half the songs on here are utterly skippable, with several more being lacking in one way or another. There's no question that expectations were inflated for this album. More than any other band today, Tool have a rabid fanbase, and following Lateralus
may well have been impossible. While credit needs to be given to Justin Chancellor in particular though, too much of 10,000 Days
features lazy songwriting, and Danny Carey and Maynard Keenan recycling ideas, rather than showing the undoubted creativity that we know they can produce. I wouldn't like to suggest where Tool go from here, but based on this evidence I'm reluctant to bet on the band making that creative jump between albums that they've been renowned for.