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Toadies - 'Feeler' Review
Toadies Resurrect an Old Shelved Album to Reach New Heights
About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating
By Tim Grierson, About.com Guide
Toadies mounted an impressive comeback with 2008’s No Deliverance, and they keep their hot streak going with Feeler, a new album that’s also an old album. A collection of re-recorded songs from their ill-fated follow-up to 1994’s breakthrough Rubberneck supplemented with new tracks, Feeler is a lean, mean album that again demonstrates the bruising power of this Texas trio’s alt-rock.
A Welcome Blast From the Past
Toadies frontman Vaden Todd Lewis and the rest of the group were flying high after the release of Rubberneck. Buoyed by the chart success of “Possum Kingdom,” the band returned to the studio to make what would become Feeler. But their label, Interscope, was unimpressed with the album, forcing the band to shelve the record and start from scratch. Seven years after Rubberneck, Toadies finally returned with Hell Below/Stars Above, but by that time the band had lost all of their commercial standing. The dismal sales for Hell Below/Stars Above led to the band’s breakup, leaving observers to dismiss them as a one-hit wonder from the 1990s’ alternative-rock era. But miraculously, the group got back together in 2008 to produce No Deliverance, a gripping onslaught of twisted love songs burnished with blues-rock intensity. Now with Feeler, Toadies return to their past while demonstrating their continued vitality.
An Album Tied to No Era
While Feeler’s promotional material plays up the record’s “lost album” conceit, the truth is that you won’t listen to these nine tracks and immediately peg them as a product of mid-‘90s angst-rock. With the exception of the Nirvana-channeling “Dead Boy,” the songs on Feeler share little in common with Seattle’s grunge scene or the general tenor of alt-rock from that period. Indeed, like No Deliverance this is an album that’s proudly out of step with both the past and the present. Feeler’s best songs have an unnerving menace that is usually accompanied by lyrics about relationships in tatters. Too much contemporary rock crosses over into misogynistic tendencies, but in comparison a track like “Mine” is a real head-game in which the narrator sounds far more imbalanced than his love interest. And because the music can’t easily be lumped into any one popular genre – too ornery for post-grunge, too streamlined for alt-metal, too muscular for indie-rock – Feeler’s spiky guitars and tight rhythm section keep you on your toes, the vicious melodies as unpredictable as the lyrics.
A Compelling, Scary Singer
As a frontman, Lewis rides a knife’s edge: He has a captivating voice that suggests both antagonism and blunt sexual longing. Even when he’s not signing about matters of the heart, such as on the toxic urban portrait of “City of Hate,” he manages to fill the song with unease, crafting characters you wouldn’t want to be but who are fun to live vicariously through during the length of the track. That’s certainly true of Feeler’s opener, “Trust Game,” which builds from an edgy acoustic opening into a snarling electric-guitar explosion. Keeping his intentions upsettingly vague, Lewis sings about a sadomasochistic relationship that didn’t work out, much to the chagrin of the narrator. One of the album’s peaks, “Trust Game” ably demonstrates what Toadies do so well, making unappealing fictional characters and moods compelling through vital music and cunningly empathetic lyrics. One only hopes that these songs are indeed fictional – running into these people in real life would be hellish.
Short but Certainly Not Sweet
Whether it’s the volcanic instrumental “ATF Theme” or the searing “Joey Let’s Go,” Feeler is a taut, compact album full of propulsive songs. (The album’s longest track just barely cracks four minutes, and the entire record runs a little more than 28 minutes.) Feeler might be too slight to be substantial, but between this record and No Deliverance Toadies are making a strong case that they’re more relevant now than they were during their brief mid-‘90s prominence. Ignoring commercial trends and simply plowing away at their dark-hearted tunes, Toadies have marked their territory quite convincingly.
'Feeler' – Best Tracks:
“City of Hate”
“Joey Let’s Go”
Release date – August 10, 2010