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Secret To Tool's Success?

I've always been somewhat intrigued by Tool's success. Unlike most bands, Tool achieved both immense critical and commercial success simultaneously, whilst maintaining their artistic integrity in discouraging radio and video airplay. They never tried to sell an image, but then again, perhaps their image was characterised by a lack thereof; an air of mystique and enigma that people somehow connected to. Considering that they came out in the early 90s, a time when there was no internet and bands relied on airplay and press coverage for exposure, I wonder how the hell Tool 'exploded' with their second record in the way that they did, given their lack of singles and a highly inaccessible sound (at least from my point of view).

Tool were pretty much hermits around this time. There was a music video for Hush
(the infamous shots of the band naked with censors covering their genitals), which
didn't get a great deal of airplay. Although it went on to sell around 1.5 million units
in the US, it certainly wasn't well received in the initial stages. The band toured a
great deal around this time, and released their first full-length around this time.

The big single off this one was Sober. Of course there was the controversial yet lesser
known Prison Sex. Both were largely successful, earning the band moderately high
spots on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart. Undertow was an exceedingly dark
hard rock/metal album in a time where Grunge was at its height and pop punk was
starting to gain momentum in the mainstream. Vocals low in the mix, dirty and eery
guitars, industrial ambience (Disgustipated, anyone?) and occasionally unorthodox
song structures were features which characterised this record, which makes its even
moderate success all the more puzzling. I had once discerned that it was the
combination of Sober and the challenging longevity of the album which brought them
a large and eventually dedicated audience, which paved the way for Aenima's

With that said, nothing intrigues me more than the way this album exploded into the mainstream. It just
doesn't make any sense. How does an album with no accessible songs (in a pop music sense), a highly
inaccessible sound and vocals seemingly indiscernible upon first listen gain popularity of mainstream
proportions? The band refused to sell their image, they refused interviews, they discouraged radio play;
they did everything wrong and had the opposite effect. Aenima's success is truly one of the great oddities in
rock history.

Regardless of how they managed to do it, Tool had a massive and highly dedicated following by the
time they released Lateralus. At this point, they were essentially in Radiohead's position in the sense
that they could write the most progressive, unorthodox record they wanted and their fans would
simply listen to it until they 'got it'. And, of course, Lateralus went on (along with Aenima) to be
considered one of the greatest albums of all time and rightfully so; Lateralus is a multi-tiered concept-
laden masterpiece with unmatched longevity and complexity in mainstream music. By the time the
touring cycle for Lateralus ended, Tool had it all.
10,000 Days

To most Tool fans, this was the album where the band seemed to be 'phoning it in'. It wasn't quite the
artistic jump between albums that fans had come to expect, but it had all of the 'Tool' elements that they
had come to love about the band. What 10,000 days did was cement the band's position on top of the
progressive rock ensemble and bring in some new fans with the 'singles' Vicarious and The Pot. This album
didn't clarify the reasons for the band's success at all, nor did it make it any more odd. Nevertheless, it
remains, how did Tool explode in the way that they did and stay on top as they have? I don't have a
fucking clue.
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