Review Summary: Strikingly Tool, subtly different, and perhaps even more controversial than later albums.
was released in 1993 the world must have been a strange place; grunge was in, pop was a far different carbon copy than the top 40 listeners hear today, and metal wasn't doing so great as far as the mainstream was concerned. Along came Tool, who having previously toured with Rage Against The Machine, Fishbone, and Rollins Band to help promote their Opiate
E.P. were ready to make waves that are still being felt to this day. Undertow
is easily readily recognizable as an Tool album, yet sets itself apart from the groups later efforts; the layering, Maynard James Keenan's slightly more subdued and less developed vocals, and the tinge of darkness found throughout Undertow
are all unique to it and it alone.
is bass heavy, and while the same could be said for all of Tool's albums ex-bassist Paul D'Amour really left his mark on Undertow
's sound. His not-so-subtle work on "Sober" and "Prison Sex" alone are now an iconic moment for longtime fans, and throughout the albums 68 minute run time the audience is continuously underneath the powerful spell of his bass. Front man Maynard James Keenan is also far more gritty, here his voice is layered deep within the interweaving lines of bass and guitar, the sharp sounds of the drum heads sounding almost as loud as his beautiful crooning. Guitarist Adam Jones is on top form here as well, though it's interesting to pick out the subtle differences between his early sound and skill set compared to that found on the bands latest release. As was mentioned before the album is layered quite well, Danny Carey's drumming is neither overpowering nor extremely technical providing the perfect backdrop for Maynards mad-scientist ideas.
"Sober" and "Prison Sex" were Undertow
's two singles, and while both are fondly looked upon by fans and early-Tool purists "Prison Sex" is by far the more interesting of the two. Featuring lyrics about child abuse it was quickly taken off of MTV, rather than hurt the group it only strengthened the bands image. The passion in Maynards voice as the lines "....you look so precious, won't you come on up closer, close enough so I can smell you. I need you to feel this, I can't stand to burn too long. Release in sodomy, Oh, for one sweet moment I am whole
" grabs the listener and refuses to let go. The bass line only add to this musically induced fantasy, and as the guitar starts to quietly soar it becomes rather clear that Tool really just might deserve all the ego-stroking longtime fans have laid upon them; even in the groups early career they were not afraid of upsetting people and making their opinions known.
Though the album is not necessarily fast paced none of the tracks are slow enough to cause REM sleep; "Swamp Song" certainly starts off slower, but the energy in "I hope is sucks you fucker... I hope it sucks you down
" and the guitar lines break any semblance of slow that might have been creeping into the listeners mind. "4 Degrees" is by far the most laid back track to be found here, and yet if the track was any faster the impact it makes lyrically would be lessened; Tool know what they are about with Undertow
, even none of the "filler" tracks that some say plague later releases are to be found here.
One of the strikingly Tool aspect of the album is that even with their debut the band really had a knack for strangely enticing songs. Hidden track "Disgustipated" is both thought provoking and lyrically gold; the plea of a field of carrots on harvest day being compared to genocide is something not many would think of, let alone telling their tale through a religious vision. The lines "They have a consciousness, they have a life, they have a soul! Damn you, let the rabbits wear glasses, save our brothers!
" conjures up an image of a tent filled with sweating church goers, fans in hand, eagerly devouring a rather porky pastors every word. As the pastor asks "Can I get and amen, can I get a hallelujah"
" not only do human voices respond, but so do the ba's of sheep; Maynard is reported to have spent almost an entire concert ba-ing at the audience due to the venue being owned by the Church of Scientology. The power "Disgustipated" builds to a striking crescendo as what seems to be a rabbit squeals, quickly leading up to Maynard's distorted "This is necessary, life feeds on life feeds on life." The line is set to the pumping and subsequent firing of a shotgun and is far more powerful than it should be. As the guitar fades and the endless chip of a lone cricket fills the remaining eight minutes of the track the listener realizes that they have just spent over an hour locked within one mad, vineyard growing, lyrical wizards brain.
broke Tool out into the public eye; the back-lash from the single "Prison Sex" and their subsequent lifelong fight against censorship are the beginnings of one of the most egotistical groups ever to receive occasional air time. With a lengthy release schedule and annoyingly rabid fans Tool staked their claim in whatever genre the listener felt like placing them in. While it is the groups first album there is not the normal identifier of a debut; Tool appear to have known what they were doing from the start. While subtle changes to the groups sound have been introduced over the years Undertow
remains a solid release, and if the year is taken into account it could be argued that the album was groundbreaking.