Lately, bands from the ’90s have been unleashing a steady stream of comebacks — including recent releases from Blues Traveler, Everclear and Soul Asylum. Yet unlike those, the Toadies’ new “Play.Rock.Music.” sounds remarkably fresh.
Typically when a rock band hits peak success while its members are in their 20s and 30s, their attempts to resurface decades later go one of two ways: They produce some facsimile of their old sound/attitude (which often seems sad coming from a middle-age band), or they move on to more age-appropriate issues and arrangements (which usually lack youthful vitality).
However, “Play.Rock.Music.” is smart, diverse and fired-up — perhaps even more so than when the Toadies grabbed attention with songs like “Possum King” and “Tyler” almost 20 years ago.
Lyrics aren’t a rote exercise for frontman Vaden Todd Lewis, who sounds like a romantic sage one minute, a frustrated fatalist the next. The man has plenty to say, starting with his opening salvo on “Rattler’s Revival,” “Sometimes I wish I had the heart of a snake/With no compassion comes no mistakes” and continuing with his grim observation on “Laments of a Good Man,” “You don’t know what to make of all the darkness in your head, so you pray and then you cry and then you work until you’re dead.”
Elsewhere he makes more primal declarations from his heart and his groin, from his escapist longings on “We Burned the City Down” to announcing his immediate needs on “Animals” with lines like, “Lover don’t you let me down/Tonight we’re just two animals.”
Meanwhile, the Texas band’s ferocious, eclectic sound is generally riveting (save for some jammy tedium). After dishing out the raucous and instantly rewarding first track, the band plows through the blistering neo-grunge of “Get Low,” the looping stoner rock of “Sunshine” and the country-blues-rock explosion “We Burned the City Down” to close out with the reflective, mainstream-rock ballad “The Appeal,” where Lewis sings of “feeding that fire inside.”
Artistically, his fire is still burning as hot as ever.
Rating: 4 stars (out of five)
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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