Fear Innoculum, by Tool
Suggested by Andy Scott-Morrissey
I reviewed my first, and so far only, Tool release – Lateralus – back as Album 134.
At the time, as a Tool Virgin, I was legitimately daunted by their reputation as a Worthy Band, capital W, capital B. Their music, to me, attracted a certain type of anal retentive who would merrily and elaborately wax lyrical about the mathematical underpinnings of the key change that’s eight-five seconds into Track Four. If you mentioned that you didn’t like a particular song, they’d state that you were wrong. And then provide proof, in essay form.
On that day, I gave it a middling 5/10, which by now I’m sure you’ve all realised translates as “f**ked if I know.”
I ended my review of their sludgy guitars, underplayed vocals and cerebral structures with a caveat that, should I find the time and energy, I’d likely rate the band more highly as my understanding and appreciation grew. It was Album 134, I was a mere baby, running scared of the perceived threat of a rampant Tooligan army braying for my blood, discordantly, in 7/4 time.
It’s not Album 134 anymore, folks. I’ve three-hundred-plus extra platters under my belt, and I’ve a much clearer personal picture of what is good, and what is not.
Fear Innoculum, by Tool? Is not.
My first complaint of two is that the whole album is massively self-indulgent. The digital version runs to a daunting one hour and twenty-six minutes, with six of the songs pounding out their messages for at least ten minutes. It’s been thirteen years since their previous album, so I suppose their fans demand their money’s worth after so long in the desert. While the length of something isn’t particularly negative in and of itself, it definitely gives the band scope to dwell on aspects overlong. I found myself rolling my eyes at times, bouncing in my seat as the tracks morphed at a glacial rate, just wishing they’d get to the damn point.
My second issue is to do with the vocals, indirectly. Long time readers will know that my love for a vocal virtuoso is unparalleled. While Maynard James Keenan can be labelled a virtuoso in many ways, he’ll get no gongs for singing. He’s fine, I guess, albeit hugely unassuming in the songs with a vocal element, likely stemming from the self-awareness that he’s not Axl Rose or Mike Patton. He’s perfectly adequate for the work he’s being asked to do, and it’s actually this issue that gives me pause. The vocal on this album, and on Lateralus too for that matter, seem segmented and subdued, bereft of an emotive anchor, simply pasted into the relevant sections like any other instrument. It’s a creative choice, process-driven and very defendable, but I want more than mere “singing goes here.”
I do have a standout. It’s the thirteen-minute behemoth 7empest, which won the Grammy for Best Metal Performance. It’s a shifting tune, with a much more vitriolic vocal, but I sense it took the award more through expectation than accomplishment. Maybe that’s churlish. I haven’t forgiven the Academy for picking Tull over ‘Tallica in 1989.
Fear Innoculum gets another middling 5/10, but don’t mistake this score for avoidance. I’m stood tall, back lintel-straight, looking the band in they eye and declaring: I don’t get it.