If I ever am responsible for releasing a successful album, I hope to god that it is never regarded as 'the greatest of all time'. Yeah, weird opinion right? I guess, but take a look at a few of the 'greatest albums of all time', Nirvana's 'Nevermind', Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side of the Moon', Radiohead's 'Ok Computer'. Most of us, probably really enjoy some of these albums, but due to the fact of their preachy fans telling us the album is the greatest in history, and their constant recommendation from various sources, we all tend to look down on albums that are considered 'the greatest of all time'. Another problem with releasing 'the greatest album of all time' is the constant criticism it receives, how many Floyd fans think 'Dark Side' is their favorite band's best, like two' How many complaints does 'Nevermind' get for ripping off The Pixies or some other late '80s alternative rock band' Everyone wants to have unique tastes, so if they are ever told 'Well, Cynic's Focus is the greatest death metal album of all time and nothing can be beat.' They will search endlessly for an album that can beat it. This is what brings us to Tool's 'Lateralus'.
Tool is a very interesting band. They've been around for around sixteen years, consisting of basically the same line-up for their entirety except with a key switch of their bassist. They released a relatively successful LP in the album Undertow during the relative height of the grunge scene. After this the band released what some fans would call their best the album 'AEnima'. 'AEnima' was heralded as a modern rock classic, and something that was very different from the other music being released in its day. While I don't tend to agree, I do understand the uniqueness the band had with their enigmatic vocalist Maynard James Keenan and their highly respect drummer Danny Carey. 'AEnima' was also recorded with their new bassist Justin Chancellor whose fondness of effect pedals and octaves would pave way for him to be a creator of some of those memorable bassist riffs of the '90s. Finishing out the quartet is Adam Jones who is probably the weakest member, but is a pretty strong guitar player whose really flaw lies in his tendency to create very similar riffs. Adam Jones is basically the equivalent of one of those hardcore singers who can only scream and sing softly, he really can only play softly and heavy and there is no middle ground. Anyways, back to the story of Tool: 'AEnima' was a pretty big success and definitely got people talking about the band. Then Tool did something that any manager has to regard as a bad mistake, they took five years recording their follow-up to their sophomore release. While during this time their were some side releases from vocalist Keenan's side project, A Perfect Circle and some touring did take place, Tool was basically not doing much. When the new millennium finally rolled around, buzz about a new release from everyone's favorite progressive modern rock band started to get around. 'Lateralus' was released on May 15, 2001 to shocked fans. The band had sort of changed their sound from 'AEnima', in that now they were building on their influence from progressive bands such as King Crimson and making much more complex music than they had with 'AEnima'.
If I had a dollar for every time I heard about 'Lateralus' in the summer of 2001, I most likely wouldn't be reviewing an album right now. The album was huge, and it really inspired some people in that it truly is very different from what was on the radio at the time. Hearing this in the midst of all those Staind rip-offs and bubble gum sheen of Christina Aguleria and her group of pop starlets must have been quite the shock. But this is where my first compliant will come from, it was only a shock if you were stuck in that kind of setting. If you were one of those kids listening to bubble-gum pop and shitty modern rock, of course 'Lateralus' would cause your mouth to drop to the floor. This album certainly shows that the members of Tool do know good music, and they know how to reproduce the sound of albums previously released. While, Tool did add this progressive edge they had swiped from past bands to their already blooming modern rock sound, it didn't really create anything original. Tool's music has been done before, and I think any conscious music fan realizes this. But still, too find this album in the mainstream scene of 2001 must've been quite the shock. 'Schism' stuck out like a sore thumb when it was released and it still is quite an astonishing song. Chancellor succeeded in writing one of the bass lines that is eternally know by almost the general populous and the delayed guitar that splits the song in half at about 3:40 is one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard in modern rock. Maynard's vocals after that break switch from their earlier anger into something very soft and lovely and this really helps the song to be one of the fixtures of my memories of 2001.
'Schism' was the single, so like most bands Tool placed it in the middle. This makes the listener have to at least give the beginning of the album of a chance. 'Lateralus' is probably the only album that I don't like that I've listened to about twenty times. I'm familiar with the songs, and I'm always waiting for some revelation to come and for me to enjoy the album but it never does. Regardless of that, the opener to the album 'The Grudge' is one of Tool's better songs. It is constantly progressing into interesting parts, and for the most part doesn't fall into the trap of bad repetition and blandness that most of the other tracks on 'Lateralus' fall into. I guess now would be an important time to bring up the fact 'Lateralus' like most progressive rock albums, has a 'theme'. This theme according to what I gather is one of 'life' and a 'celebration of life'. Somehow those two to three minute intro tracks that are scattered about the album fit into this theme and the fact that if you use a mathematical term known as the 'Fibonacci Sequence' you can reorder the album into the intentional order. I'm not completely sure about this, because I don't usually buy into such gimmicks but apparently you can do it. This is part of what spawns my second compliant about the album. Tool is completely full of themselves. What other band do you know that purposely disarranges its track list so that their fans can like a puzzle figure out the hidden meaning behind the album and organize it into the correct track list' I mean, sure we don't know if the theory of the 'Fibonacci Sequence' is true but the fact is, this is one of the most pretentious and overblown things ever done in the history of music. This attitude also translates itself into the music at parts, while 'The Grudge' and 'Schism' are excellent progressive modern rock songs; we have to deal with useless interludes like 'Mantra' (Which according to rumor is a cat.) and 'Eon Blue Apocalypse' to get to the next good song. Not to mention the basically 'Grudge' rehash 'The Patient'. It just seems like if the band took a little less time trying to make the first five tracks of the album be all weird and progressive, and actually just wrote music they would've been able to create five 'Schism' type songs. Instead we have to deal with nearly nine minutes of filler that could've otherwise been two interesting and unique songs. We all know Tool is able to write incredible songs, it's just some of us are more susceptible to bullshit then others I guess.
The next highlight of the album is 'Tick & Leeches'. This song has a pretty ridiculous drumbeat. It's all over the place, and it really gives off that tribal feel Tool is known for. Chancellor messes around with some really low bass stuff during it and the intro to the song is going pretty good until we have Jones come in and do a very similar 'solo' to that of the track that just ended 'Parabola'. This 'solo' only lasts for a few seconds though, until we enter the actual song, which is made interesting by Maynard's switch into a rapping style. It's some much needed diversity to that of the previous few tracks dark growl and light singing that was getting pretty old. For the most part 'Tick & Leeches' is a very solid song, but some bad choices of effects and the useless melodic part in the middle kind of harm it in reaching the same heights as 'Schism'. Following 'Tick & Leeches' we are suited to some more filer in the form of 'Lateralus' another 'Grudge' ripoff and 'Disposition' a short interlude that seems to switch the mood into something much calmer than the impending 'Reflection' has in mind.
'Reflection' is a pretty ridiculous track. Like 'Tick & Leeches' Chancellor and Carey set up an extremely fine rhythm. When the synths come into the compliment this, it reminds me of a sort of complex Nine Inch Nails, which is very interesting in my opinion and is a sound that probably would make me a lot more excited about Tool. Although the build up lasts about thirty seconds too long it's a good attempt at setting the song up for a switch that comes around the 3:30 mark, with the addition of Manyard's vocals. The beauty of the rhythm part is kind of lost when it is continuously playing for nearly nine minutes, but it is a very solid piece of work so it's not that bad. When the song finally actually takes off at around the 8:30 mark, it has a very enjoyable crescendo. The problem with the build-up is that the final product is not nearly as enjoyable as say one of a band like Godspeed You Black Emperor! If perhaps Tool had split the song in half and made two interesting, and quicker songs they would've had two more hits on their hands, but instead they waste eight minutes building up to a lack luster 'finale'. 'Triad' is basically a six minute instrumental track that shows off how good Carey and Chancellor are, and they are really good. Then we get to listen to a two minute phone call that's basically a call out on Christ, thanks Tool.
While, I've basically covered the album above, I think Maynard's lyrics also need some examine since album obviously has a purpose. While some people tend to think Maynard is one of the best lyricists of our day and age, I think his lack of various material in Tool (At least on this album) makes him sub par at best. While he certainly has a very unique and interesting voice that has a variety of uses, his lyrics tend to be based in the realm of expressing some sort of anger, or meandering on about various things in metaphor. The only problem is in my opinion; his metaphor is very weak to say an artist like Cedric Bixler of the Mars Volta. Lines like 'We'll ride the spiral to the end and may just go where no one's been' and 'Wear the grudge like a crown of negativity' just seem to want to be serious and it makes them less emotional. That's the real lack that I find in his lyrics, the lack of emotion. But all in all this lyrical attack is probably all based heavily in my personal opinion.
In conclusion, Tool's 'Lateralus' is an overblown, pretentious progressive modern rock album that in my opinion doesn't live up to its name. I find this odd, because I like Tool's influences (King Crimson) and derivatives (dredg) but have never seemed to have grown a fondness for the band. While it'd be impossible to say 'Lateralus' is a horrible album I think the sheer 'overdoneness' really weakens its ability. Had the band concentrated on making shorter and better songs, like 'Schism' or parts of 'Reflection' I think Tool would have succeeded at making a timeless, original, and most of all relevant album. Instead like most progressive bands fell in the trap of more is more, and built an album around some very shaky but extremely attractive pillars. Maybe one day, Tool will realize that they don't need to add all the bullshit that they are so fond of to make a record, and if that day comes I'll probably become one of their biggest fans (Tool only needs to look at their friends in the Deftones and their album White Pony, to see how a modern rock album needs to be done.) Or maybe I'm just criticizing this album because I have to deal with so many people complaining about it being 'the greatest album ever made.' Who knows?