A Report Card for the Shitty Music I Liked In Junior High
Tool doing stuff we would've thought badass when we were 13
Here's the thing about '90s alt-rock: when you're a kid learning guitar, it is the work of heroes. Then some of those kids get older and realize Collective Soul's "Heavy" wasted an awesome riff on a formulaic, mediocre song. We took a trip down memory lane and revisited the albums we loved in junior high to see how well they hold up.
The Verve Pipe
Grade I Would Have Given It Then: A
Grade I Would Give It Now: B-
These guys were the most musical of the "scrunge" bands (to use an old SPIN term), which at the time got them compared to XTC from charitable press. But boy, were they stupid. A "shoe full of rice" could only belong in a hit ballad where a freshman regrets dumping a girl because she kills herself. But who told them "I'm in the photograph" is a shoutable chorus?
Grade I Would Have Given It Then: A-
Grade I Would Give It Now: C
Collective Soul had albums I knew were bad even then -- what the fuck happens to Disciplined Breakdown after track two, or Hints, Allegations and Things Left Unsaid after track one? But their most successful album had the most memorable riffs between Ed Roland's R2D2-like grasp on lyrical couplets. Still, I really don't need to hear "December" or "The World I Know" ever again. And what's with all the veiled sex references ("Turn your head now baby/ Just spit me out," "Yeah, let's gel"), you lapsed Christian rockers? Is that what made dc Talk put you on blast?
Grade I Would Have Given It Then: B+
Grade I Would Give It Now: C-
S.C.I.E.N.C.E. was the one I really loved, and I still think the "New Skin" and "A Certain Shade of Green" took rap-metal to places it never really ended up going. So imagine how bummed I was when they slowed the hyperactivity to a crawl and messed everything up with pretentious ballads. But I can't believe I thought Brandon Boyd was clever in the first place. Sample dorm-room bullshit: "It feels like trading brains with an imbecile," "I've had it with the world/ And its people's mindless games," and the kicker, on a song I really used to like, "If you let them fuck you/ There will be no foreplay."
Grade I Would Have Given It Then: A-
Grade I Would Give It Now: D
Ignore their appallingly facile "concepts," and Tool has their decent moments ... that take fucking forever to arrive. Take "Eulogy" for instance, with its stupid two whole minutes of clicking a guitar pick against a pickup, only to release two rocking choruses in all of 8:28. As much as I appreciate "He had a lot to say/ He had a lot of nothing to say/ We'll miss him" as a send-off to L. Ron Hubbard, you have to wonder if it wouldn't apply to M. James Keenan just the same. I mean, 20 minutes of this turd is dedicated to experimental collages and skits. And that's not counting all their references to anal insertions.
Grade I Would Have Given It Then: A+
Grade I Would Give It Now: B
Eh, I still like these guys. Gavin's voice added a seductive co-ed appeal to those chunks of riff, he was right to complain about "no sex in your violence," and he wasn't above laughing at himself in tunes called "Testosterone" and "X-Girlfriend." But as a kid I was distraught when he forgot how to write a chorus around the time of Woodstock '99. As an adult I wish something else here held up as well as the five hit singles.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.