by Myles Dunhill (@MylesDunhill)
Growing up in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, it was very difficult not to know who the Toadies were. The hometown heroes breakout single, "Possum Kingdom," was everywhere on the alternative radio stations and Toadies t-shirts and flyers were in heavy abundance. Oddly enough though, my love of the band came from hearing the song, "Backslider" in the film, The Cable Guy. Yet it seemed that as soon as I discovered them, the band was falling apart. After their debut, Rubberneck was released in 1994, the band recorded a second album which was rejected from their label and the remnants of which made up the bulk of follow-up, Hell Below/Stars Above. Then they called it quits.
After frontman Vaden Todd Lewis had played a few years in his new band, the harder sounding, Burden Brothers (with Reverend Horton Heat drummer Taz Bentley) Toadies reformed, but by then my interest in the group had dwindled. Four albums have been released since, and I’m finally catching up with them on their fifth and latest album, The Lower Side of Uptown. This is quite possibly the heaviest batch of songs I’ve heard from the group to date, and to quote Lewis, the album is very much “full of riffs and time shifts”.
I’ve often noticed the Toadies earlier sound to be very indebted to the Pixies with the vocals very much on a par with the howling screech of Frank Black and the interweaving, quirky guitar-lines of guitarist Clark Vogeler being very much in line with Joey Santiago’s memorable guitar wailing. However, there is something very distinctive about the harder-edged, grunge-rooted Toadies, and those strengths are really pushed to the forefront on this release. The first half of the record sounds way more in step with the Burden Brothers blues-influenced dirty southern-fried rock blasting forth on all cylinders, like on the opening track, "When I Die," or with the filthy swagger of "You Know the Words."
The most interesting thing about this new record is that halfway through Toadies venture into territory that I haven’t heard the band take since their debut, only with a broader sense of scope. The track, "Amen," is a wonderful surprise harkening back to their older style and containing a very gloomy verse that recalls Billy Idol in its vocal delivery and overall tone. The booming chorus also sounds in a similar vein with some of the more anthemic bombast that made up so much of their first two releases. Then with "Human Cannonball" and my personal favorite, "Broke Down Stupid," they push the classic template even more, combining it with the raw guitar-driving energy presented on the first half of the record coupled with a melodic sensibility slightly familiar and also altogether new for my ears, recalling many of alt-rock’s heavy hitters from yesteryear.
The pushing outward into this new sound also showcases nicely on a cover of the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins classic, "I Put a Spell on You," a track that could’ve sounded completely hokey and cheesy if it weren’t done with such aplomb. The record closes halfway between the terrain explored on the first half with more emphasis on pummeling guitar and maximum riffs galore. There’s something slightly nostalgic throughout the entire record, and that’s to be expected from a band that has been around for over twenty years, but it’s also very exciting to see where the band is going to spiral next. When your sound is so distinct and well-defined, the possibilities may not seem so endless, but the power, energy and drive the Toadies bring to the table here are found in spades.
Stream courtesy of Allmusic.com.