Artist: Toad the Wet Sprocket
Label: Columbia House
Time: 44:11, 12 tracks
The Byrds begat R.E.M. who begat Toad the Wet Sprocket who begat Model Engine and Jars of Clay and Days of New and a host of other bands in the 90's. You can see from this genealogy that Toad the Wet Sprocket is relevant for no other reason than their prodigious offspring. Back in 1989, Toad the Wet Sprocket sprung on the scene to again recreate the sometimes-folky-alternative- modern-pop-rock scene with a series of finely crafted albums. They weren't afraid of being honest, moody and either acoustic or plugged in depending on the situation. They are still at it, yet the positive buzz around the band has seemingly subsided somewhat. This is odd given the fact that their latest album, Coil, is very nearly as strong as any of their previous five albums. Toad the Wet Sprocket are still creating accessible alterna-pop music worthy of recognition.
Coil does not find Toad the Wet Sprocket reinventing themselves much. Musically, it's consistent with their breakthrough album, Fear, and its follow-up, Dulcinea. Their strongest gift is their penchant for creating memorable melodies coupled with lush harmonies in a mix of simple arrangements that range from beautiful ballads to aggressive rockers. In this respect, Coil does not disappoint. It's trademark Toad the Wet Sprocket. (They are some moments of more aggression here, but they haven't morphed into Green Day.) If you've ever seen a band photo, concert or video, you know this band from Santa Barbara California is not a bunch of poster boys. They're basically, well, geeks that make great melancholy rock and roll. Maybe that's why they don't sell more records. That or the fact that lead-singer Glen Phillips still sounds like Neil Diamond (I can't be the only out there that thinks this). But whatever camera-ready beauty they may lack in composure, they more than make up for in their rich, attractive music.
One of the more endearing traits about Toad the Wet Sprocket is their poetic yet accessible lyrics Although often obscure, there are times when their messages of hope and love in the face of hard times rings true. On Coil there are fewer of the politically-correct songs they've done in the past particularly ones ranting against forms of abuse and praising the virtues of human dignity. Instead, over the course of twelve songs we are further introduced to a central figure plagued with doubt and fear, but desperately searching for a form of faith to lift them out of the mire of worldly existence. This search is most clear on "Come Down" :
Behind my best intentioned oath
Won't you come down where I am
"When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" Toad the Wet Sprocket, sing about such struggles, yet unlike Paul they do not overtly proclaim, "Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord!" Rather, they seem to have come to more humanistic, unitarian-universalist and even Buddhist conclusions about the struggles of this earthly life. For example, from "Little Buddha:"
Cold and shuddering
Cruel and pummeling
Smile on little buddha, smile on
It's only illusion, then it's gone.
By Steven Stuart Baldwin