Holy crap, the Toadies! Remember them? I do. I don't think it's too heavy an exaggeration to proclaim that I am the only person in the Western Hemisphere who owns all of the Toadies' albums besides the band's own mothers. I can't really defend that, nor can I put my finger on why I find them such an enjoyable band, especially considering that I probably listen to them only four or five times a year.
"Feeler" was conceived in 1997 as the follow up to 1994's unbridled success "Rubberneck." Through convoluted circumstances that no doubt feel petty in retrospect, the album was buried by Interscope, never seeing its 1998 release, or the light of day until now. Originally composed of fifteen possible songs, "Feeler" ended up supplying five songs to 2001's "Hell Below/Stars Above," (including the single "Push the Hand,") and now has had the fat cut and is streamlined down to nine songs. Those nine songs have been re-envisioned and re-recorded by the current Toadies' lineup, so who knows what "Feeler" was supposed to sound like in that era and at that age.
"Feeler" goes by quickly without a lot of exposition on any individual song. That in and of itself makes the album feel like the band is dragging and summarily exorcising musical skeletons from their formerly locked closet. It's probably impossible for any songwriter to replicate the energy and mindset during a recording that's thirteen years after the fact, so we may never know the kind of energy that was intended to go into "Feeler."
Still, the embers have roiling passion to impart before they're through. To properly frame the Toadies musically, think of them as a band from the late seventies that's trying to emulate bands from the fifties. That's where the loose chords and fuzzy guitar in new tunes like "Waterfall" come in to play. It's like a meeting of the minds between a poor man's Ramones and Bill Haley and the Comets, with just a little Guess Who sprinkled in. That probably overstates it, but I'm probably biased. I mean, read the intro paragraph again.
One of the things that's always stood out about the Toadies is Todd Lewis' ability to sound both haunted and eminently casual. He has a way of singing about abstract yet serious dilemmas with a disaffected air, as though the outcome doesn't really make a difference. The band has always followed suit, and that comes through either in the dramatic construction of "Trust Game," or the ghostly jovial jaunt of "Mine."
"Dead Boy" doesn't seem like much at first, but is a foot-stomping good time and a throwback to when grunge and things like it ruled the radio waves.
The album possesses all the hallmarks that made "I Come From the Water" stand out nearly a generation ago, but is also pockmarked by the same scars as most albums that were shelved for extended periods of time. Due to the album's premature death during its figurative puberty, it feels like there are incomplete ideas. "ATF Theme" is a wonderfully inventive song that uses the trademark Toadies' note-placement-over-speed theorem, but it's short, and is more like a demo of a larger song. Other songs like "Suck Magic," or "Joey Let's Go" could have used more time in the oven, which is ironic for a song that's already thirteen years old.
Perhaps if "Feeler" had been allowed to see the light of day in 1998, fans wouldn't have forgotten about the band by the time "Hell Below/Stars Above" was released in 2001, and the Toadies' legacy might have been dramatically different. If this is the band's second step since their 2008 reformation, then the slate should now be clean. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, happens next.