You believed in movements none could see. You believed in me.
Tool has two settings: Loud as Hell and Weird as Hell. Occasionally, they double up on the amps and do both at once. Those are the ones you kind of wait for. On 10,000 Days, it’s the Weird moments that make the album.
They get plenty loud, like on the album opener Vicarious, second single The Pot and the late album, eleven minute epic, Rosetta Stoned. These songs are easy to admire. I mean, it’s not every band that sets out to use every time signature known to man on one album. And it is, I think, for these kinds of songs, the rapidly shifting, violently loud, instrumentally flashy, screamingly angry numbers that most people who love Tool love Tool. I know these songs are the reasons a friend of mine loves Tool, a friend of mine who once said to me in complete seriousness when I was trying to talk about how the emotional center of this album is Wings for Marie/10,000 Days, “Aenima is not of this world.”
The point I was trying to make to him, which he didn’t care to hear and maybe you don’t either, but since I’m writing this, not speaking it, you can’t interrupt me, can you, and so you have to hear it anyway, was a simple one, namely that 10,000 Days found an odd sort of luminous quality in its slow, ambient tracks and failed to really transcend anything in its up-beat, raging tracks. That sentence, by the way, reminds me that Tool actually does have a third setting: Long as Hell.
The centerpiece of this album is a two track song titled Wings, the first part called Wings for Marie, the second part called 10,000 Days. The intensity of the personal lyrics, dealing with Keenan’s feelings about his mother and the 27 year paralysis she endured between a stroke and her eventual death, is visceral and immediate. The music is droning, haunted and beautiful in its very starkness. The seventeen minutes taken up with these two tracks are the pinnacle of the album, in my opinion and, coming as they do, rather early, the album never totally recovers, which is too bad. Right in Two wouldn’t sound nearly so big and dumb if we weren’t still emotionally reeling from Wings. Before I am strung up in effigy (or perhaps in reality!), I should say that technical literacy does not prevent a song from sounding dumb. Right in Two is a very literate and intellectual song; it also happens to sound incredibly dumb. Thank you, that is all.
The album’s moments of strangeness are somehow transfigured by the strength of Wings. The bizarre Lost Keys, which is an eerie soundscape played under the conversation between a doctor and a nurse about a mysterious patient, becomes somehow a broken and horrible liturgy from the hospital, a ritualistic moment of banality meeting terror in a simple conversation. Viginti Tres is a quiet track of ripples in white noise while Lipan Conjuring seems to capture a snippet of a Native American ceremony. These tracks, such blank canvases, can be projected onto and I suppose that what projects onto them is the deep emotion of Wings, which one can’t really shake for the duration of the album. The louder rock tracks are unable to bear any projection and generally stand in contrast to the emotions of Wings and so they somehow fail to work. The Pot, for instance, which sounds pretty darn great as a single, just feels jarring after the quiet grief of 10,000 Days, which it follows directly.
I don’t know that this is entirely a negative review of the album as it stands. It could be that this emotional dissonance is exactly what the band wanted. And then it could be that if you removed the rockers you’d just be bored with the quieter album or that the rockers without the quieter songs would produce an annoyingly untextured album. Maybe the only way these two diverse styles could exist was in such a dissonant way. That’s as may be and I have some sympathy for creative dissonance and a tendency to give the benefit of the doubt when things work as well as they do for long stretches of this album. All I know is that while you skip Lipan Conjuring and queue up Rosetta Stone, I’m putting Lost Keys on repeat and burning a copy without The Pot on it.
3 out of 5 stars.