For starters, Toadies were just a very, very cool band. Their 1994 debut, ‘Rubberneck’ was terminally cool and unlike anything else at the time. The eternally humongous single from that album, “Possum Kingdom,” will forever stand as a classic. Many people don’t know the song by name, but instantly recognize it when they hear it. Much like a similarly huge song from the time, “Backwater” from Meat Puppets’ ‘Too High To Die’ CD, the song proved almost too huge to follow up and many people who bought ‘Rubberneck’ never gave the rest of the disc a fighting chance.
Because of this and the fact that Interscope Records refused to release the original intended follow up to ‘Rubberneck’ entitled ‘Feeler’ in 1998, this disc never stood a chance. ‘Hell Below, Stars Above’ finally saw the light of day some 7 years after the debut, and by that time the alternative movement had turned more to Nu-Metal and Toadies sadly broke up a mere 5 months after the album’s release.
What we have here, then, is an undeniably original disc full of hooks, melody and relentless grooves all delivered with a decidedly non-commercial, enthusiastic almost-punk attitude. I’ve always admired how Soundgarden can just turn beats around on a dime and make the most absurd time signature groovable. Toadies just might be even a little better, as evidenced on songs here like “Little Sin” and the hair-raising opener of openers “Plane Crash.”
You can’t really go wrong here, this being one of those discs that sounds just as life-affirming after a thousand listens as it did the very first time. “Push The Hand” (a song salvaged from the unreleased ‘Feeler’ sessions), “Motivational,” Pressed Against The Sky,” “Jigsaw Girl, “Sweetness,” the title track…I could just go on and name them all. Even the more toned-down songs like “Pressed Against the Sky” crackle with an absurd realism emanating from lead vocalist Todd Lewis’ passionate pipes.
One of my favorite tracks, “What We Have We Steal” is a reworking of a ‘Feeler’ track called “Best of Three,” as well as being one of the few tracks that DON’T have an unorthodox song structure. As great as this album is, I often wonder if the lost ‘Feeler’ tracks might be even better what with the record label refusing to release them…that usually means the label didn’t believe the tracks were commercial enough to sell, a laughable thought with regard to Toadies given the sincere, catchy non-commerciality of all their work.
Fiercely independent, fiercely original and fiercely hooky, you’ve just gotta hear this band. There have been rumours that Toadies have reformed and could be recording a new album in the near future as of this post. We can only hope.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5