Review Summary: Tool's 4th full length is a competent stand alone album but next to the other masterpieces in their discography, it isn't quite up to snuff. I wrote this review back in May for my school's newspaper, and it's the first review I ever wrote.
10,000 Days, Tool’s 4th studio offering, comes after a five year hiatus during which lead singer Maynard James Keenan lent his vocal stylings to side project, A Perfect Circle (his band with former Tool guitar tech, Billy Howerdel); and the rest of the band did pretty much nothing except bask in the fame their three excellent previous albums bought them. Speaking of their previous albums, 10,000 Days is very similar to their last effort, Lateralus, almost to the point where it seems as if this is, at least stylistically, simply a continuation of it. In other words, Tool is a band known for their progression between albums, i.e., their 1993 debut LP, Undertow, was pure raw energy and aggression, this sound was refined and significantly but not completely restrained for their next album, 1996’s Aenima, and with 2001’s Lateralus, Tool became much more progressive and somewhat less accessible but in the end, this proved to be their most successful album among fans and critics alike. On 10,000 Days, it seems Tool has decided not to continue this trend, opting to go for an album that sounds at first listen very similar to Lateralus. That said, there are loads of things that set this album apart from the rest of Tool’s relatively short discography. First and foremost, thematically and lyrically, this is a much more personal album for Maynard. Even the title has a special meaning for Maynard with 10,000 Days referring to the length of time Maynard’s mother, Judith Marie, suffered through a debilitating, seizure-inducing disease before she passed away. If one were to do the math, 10,000 days is almost 27 years, that’s a long time for anyone to spend confined to a wheelchair, and her unflinching faith in God through all of her hardships is the theme of two excellent songs on the record and also the theme of a wonderful A Perfect Circle song, simply titled, Judith. Also, this album’s shorter songs sound far more accessible than any of Tool’s other releases. “The Pot” and “Jambi” seem tailor made for rock radio success, and Vicarious is already raking in huge amounts of airtime on modern rock stations. In spite of this, the longer songs on the album are twisting, spiraling 10+ minute prog-epics, something Tool is well known for.
Not to be constrained by rock music’s current penchant for simplicity and 4/4 time signatures, Tool released Vicarious as the first single from the album. It seems as if it was a wise choice, with Vicarious garnering unparalleled amounts of radio airplay for a Tool song. The first track on the record, Vicarious snakes through its seven minutes with an ingenious octave bass line provided by the incomparable Justin Chancellor. The lyrics refer to America’s love of violence in the media and our callous, bloodthirsty nature when we don’t have to witness the destruction that violence brings first-hand. Perhaps this song would serve better cut down just a bit to around five minutes because after the first two verse sections, the song begins to drag on a fair bit, and the band’s attempt at a rousing, crashing finale falls a little flat as it is nothing more than the chorus repeated for what seems like the thousandth time with some double bass drumming sparingly added. Next is the song Jambi. This song and the fifth track, “The Pot”, are nearly interchangeable, with The Pot being the more enjoyable of the two because of its simpler composition and significantly shorter length. But I digress, the highlight of Jambi is by far the guitar solo, a smoldering, screaming talk-box solo. This was Adam Jones’ first real solo since the song “Third Eye”, from 1996’s Aenima, and it’s a good one. In an interview with Guitar World, Jones explains that the rest of the group encouraged him to experiment more with soloing but regrettably, this was the only standout solo that made it onto the album. Skipping two tracks brings us to the second single of the album, The Pot. Conjuring images of Undertow, this is Maynard’s scalding tirade against those who do not wish to see marijuana legalized. This track almost seems to be a way for Maynard to vent all of the aggression he had pent up inside of him. The title has a double meaning, accusing opponents of the legalization of marijuana to be akin to “the pot calling the kettle black”, and the other meaning…well, all you readers should be able to figure that one out on your own.
The reason the next two tracks are deserving of their very own paragraph is because they are two parts of one amazing song about Maynard’s mother and her battle with her illness. “Wings for Marie (pt. 1)” and “10,000 Days (Wings pt. 2)” are so seamless in their transition that they could have been left as one track, though it would have totaled over 17 minutes long and I believe that they are far more effective songs separated. The best part about this pairing is the fashion in which the songs build to one enormous crescendo where the four members of Tool truly come together to form one perfect unit moving in flawless sync with each other. Part one is little more than droning guitar and softly sung lyrics, but it is a perfect introduction to part two which brings this series to a close with a truly moving finish. Beginning with the sounds of a rainstorm pattering away under a pulsating bass line and a feeble sounding guitar line, 10, 000 Days is , for me, the highlight of the entire album and easily the most emotional moment Tool has produced in its storied career. The song begins to take shape at around the four minute mark, with Maynard seemingly nominating his mother for sainthood with lyrics like, “You’re the only one who can hold your head up high,/shake your fist at the gates sayin': I have come home now/Fetch me the spirit, the son, and the father,/tell them their pillar of faith has ascended. “ These lines lead into the song’s stirring climax at 5:38, for me, the single best moment of the entire album. Here, the guitar, bass, drums, and vocals of Tool transcend their normal parts and jobs to become something more than themselves, creating a moment unmatched by any song I’ve heard recently. It is the moments like this, the spine-tingling, chill-inducing moments that remind us why music is so important in our lives and why Tool in particular, who have created many of these moments in their career, have become so successful despite their apparent inaccessibility.
The last half of the album is much more difficult to get into, and it took me several full listens to fully appreciate this part of the record. The problem with this part is that all of the album’s filler tracks (something Tool is famous for) are on this half. That means that of the last six tracks, only two can be considered real songs. This makes for a fairly disjointed set of six songs and a tough listen overall. Rosetta Stoned and Right In Two comprise the song portion of the last half of the album and they do it in spectacular fashion. Rosetta Stoned is about the story of a man who has been abducted by aliens and is now the sole possessor of knowledge that could potentially destroy the earth. Tool is extremely fond of the extra-terrestrial theme, as evidenced by the track ‘Faaip de Oiad’, a filler track and the final track from 2001’s Lateralus, which tells the story of an ex Area 51 employee who reveals to the public secrets of alien dangers, far more powerful than anything humans could possibly hope to defend themselves against. Rosetta Stoned is pretty standard Tool material, timing out at over 11 minutes and featuring the usual heavy, angular guitars, odd-time signatures, and Maynard’s unmistakable vocals. Right In Two is a little something different, however. Clocking in at a bloated 8:57, this song is very similar to 10,000 Days (Wings Pt. 2) in its construction and composition. Interwoven clean guitar lines start the song but it evolves to a song much larger than one would expect, complete with percussion solo. This song proves to be one of the more interesting listens on the disc, but it takes a few listens for the song to sink in and become what it truly can be.
As always, the musicianship on this album is superb, and the listener has grown to expect nothing less from Tool. Danny Carey is still the best and most creative drummer in prog, and bassist Justin Chancellor once again provides much more than just a solid low end, becoming the focus of many songs on the album. Though guitarist Adam Jones’ contributions have evolved slightly from the last effort, he seems to constantly fall back on the same type of minor-key riff that has worked for him countless times in the past. It works for him again on 10,000 Days, but if he continues to churn out such similar sounding riffs and melodies, Tool’s sound will begin to weather far earlier than it should. Maynard’s vocal performance is near perfect, delivering his lyrics with more conviction than possibly any singer in rock music today. Maynard truly knows the limitations of his voice and he uses it perfectly to convey whatever emotion he is trying to get across.
A friend of mine once said of Tool: “They are intoxicating once you give them enough time to squeeze into your consciousness.” This is also true of their latest effort, the splendid 10,000 Days. Whether this album will be remembered along side the masterpieces that are Lateralus and Aenima in their discography remains to be seen, but for now, Tool has crafted yet another prog tour de force that is well worth a listen.