Having not been much of a Tool fan back when they were underground and “cool,” it was something of a shock to me to hear Lateralus for the first time and be blown away by it. After that, I got to experience the unique joy of waiting 5 years for new material1, and finally we got 10,000 Days.
I should have known something was wrong before I even heard the album: the decision for packing was a mutant digipack—foam-like cardboard with an odd flap containing “stereoscopic” lenses, purportedly to make the artwork look three-dimensional. I suppose that’s fine and dandy, but after the visual feast of Lateralus‘s packaging, this seems plain and pedestrian. The same could be said for the contents of the disk itself.
“Vicarious” is both the first track and first single of the album, and is really nothing more than a version of “Schism” that kicks significantly less ass. It sounds overly angsty and unremarkable, and while I understand this is often the case with singles, Tool used to be and should still be immune to such pressures.
The highlight of the album to me is the two-part “Wings for Marie” which is a sprawling, massive affair that really shows off Tool’s chops. I find myself often listening to just these two tracks in repeat, because they blow the rest of the album out of the water: there is a rumbling storm motif throughout, and its emotional charge hits closer than Tool generally try for. There’s good reason: the “Wings for Marie” piece—indeed, the album as a whole—is about James Maynard Keenan’s mother, Judith Marie2, who was paralyzed from a stroke for ≈10,000 days before her eventual death.
Sure, Tool are up to their usual tricks: Google the album and you’ll find people mixing different songs because they “fit together,” or reorganizing track orders3, or finding hidden messages. But the fact of the matter is, the album quickly degrades after track five—it’s a lot of filler, interrupted only by the 11+ minute, absolutely forgettable “Rosetta Stoned,” whose mediocrity cements 10,000 Days as a general washout. It coulda been a contenduh, but whether it’s label pressure or Keenan’s APC experience in the last five years, or just a creative dry spell, this albums fails to live up to Tool’s standard, and you may be better off clutching your copy of Ænima or Lateralus (depending on which camp you belong to) a little tighter instead.
But you don’t have to take my word for it.
- ffanatic more or less concurs with me.
- Pitchfork Media wasn’t impressed either.
- PopMatters like it but for the surfeit of filler.
- CokeMachineGlow thinks it’s largely a failure.
Of course, positive reviews seem to outnumber the negative ones twofold, but I guess my high expectations are (as always) my undoing. At least I’m not alone.
- It was like Nine Inch Nails all over again—I waited 6 years for a follow-up to the amazing The Fragile and all I got to show for it was the decidedly mediocre With Teeth[↩]
- Listen at 8:47 on the second part, “10,000 Days”, when Maynard says her name explicitly[↩]
- One of the more interesting fan-found things about Lateralus was that it was heavily inspired by Fibonacci sequences, with one fan even going so far as to suggest that the tracks should be reordered as such.[↩]