Friday, January 17, 2014

Remember Toad the Wet Sprocket? They're Back!

I'm not sure I believe in coincidence.  More likely there are unseen forces that are leading you, but they're so adept at hiding their presence that you think some fortuitous but random chain of events was pure happenstance and not some master plan.  Or maybe I shouldn't start writing before I've had breakfast.

I had made a Spotify playlist since Pandora did not seem to grasp my musical taste based on my worshippnig R.E.M.  Somehow Pandora thought that meant I need to hear Bono's voice every other song, missing the fact that R.E.M. was all about Peter Buck's jangly guitar.  So as I assembled the jangliest playlist I could, one of the songs I re-discovered was a former obsession, Toad the Wet Sprocket's "Something's Always Wrong."

In case you don't have a scarily unflagging memory like my husband who, when I mentioned the band, recalled instantly that they hailed from Santa Barbara, a brief bio.  The band's name came from a Monty Python skit.  They had a number of hits in the early '90s including "All I Want," "Walk on the Ocean," and "Fall Down."  They broke up in the late '90s and their lead singer Glenn Phillips went off to make music as a solo artist.

Back to "Something's Always Wrong."  That song is one of those that affects me on a molecular level; I can feel my cells being filled up when the opening guitar riff starts playing.  I've always thought it was one of the most beautiful, perfectly formed songs ever written.  It came out in 1994 and twenty years (!!) later, it still gets to me.  The wistful lyrics, the rueful singing, and the guitar part, oh that rapidly strumming set of chords, that gives me goosebumps every time.

If you're unfamiliar with the song, here you go. You may want to close your eyes as this is a fairly cheesy video made back when MTV still aired videos all the time and artists tried to be visually unique, not always to great results.

That song was a modest hit, but did not do nearly as well as I would have expected, not as well as their other hits.  My guess for why it wasn't a bigger hit has no backing in facts, but I'll throw this out there.  I noticed that when they played the song live, including its debut on the David Letterman show (a big platform for alternative rock acts in the '90's), during the chorus Phillips sang the background part bringing it to the foreground musically.  What was in the forefront on the record, was then pushed to the back.  Here, compare and contrast the two versions and see if you agree that the song is not as impactful with the emphasis switched during the chorus:

See? The big chorus payoff was missing.  Every live performance I've found has the same arrangement.  Whatever the reason, that song did not crack the Top 40 and that was probably the last I had thought about them until I put that playlist together and started revisiting the '90s for some jangly guitar songs.  I added the song based on memory, I didn't even listen to it at the time. Then a month or two went by and the shuffle gods finally cued up the song for me (in fairness, it's a 100+ song playlist, but still I heard Bigmouth Strikes Again about ten times in that interval).  As soon as it started I fell in love with the song all over again.  It's been on repeat for three days and I've yet to grow tired of it.

So where does coincidence play into all of this?  As I was telling someone about this rediscovery, I decided to google the band, check out exactly when the song came out and what had happened to them.  And there I saw, to my great surprise, that Toad the Wet Sprocket had just released a new album.  They had reunited (oh please, music gods, let that happen for R.E.M.) and through a Kickstarter had financed a new album, "New Constellation."

I trepidatiously checked it out (we've all been burned by later albums by former favorites that disappoint) and found that it's actually a terrific album.  There are two standout tracks, their new single "The Moment" and the delicate, doleful "Golden Age."  Really, who does regret and yearning better than they do?  I also particularly like "Is There Anyone Out There," which is a catchy, more uptempo song that showcases Phillips' still-stellar vocals and "The Eye," which has a bit of a Maroon 5 meets country-rock feel.  The closer on the album, "Enough," is another powerful track that displays the band's range and versatility, having an almost Radiohead feel to it.

Check out Toad's website here for more info on the band, the new album, and their tour schedule.  And hit them up on Twitter @ToadWetSprocket.  For an old time band, they're pretty good at social media!

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