Bread And Circus

Toad The Wet Sprocket

Abe's, 1989

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


I remember seeing Bread And Circus, the debut release from Toad The Wet Sprocket, in the studio back in my college radio days. I also remember not having the courage or foresight of playing them on the air; in fact, it wasn’t until Glen Phillips and crew experienced their first taste of success with “Walk On The Ocean” a few years later that the light bulb in my head went on, and I said, “Oh, so those are the guys?”

Well, better late than never, I guess. There are two amazing things about this particular album—the first being that Toad The Wet Sprocket’s signature sound was already almost completely developed at this early stage in their career. The second is that most of the band was still college age when this was recorded—and Phillips was still under the age of 20! Indeed, the groundwork was there… but there was still polish that needed to be applied.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Opening with one of the two singles pulled from the disc, “Way Away,” one can almost immediately hear the Toad The Wet Sprocket we’ve come to know in the first three minutes of the album. It’s all there—the jangly guitars, the harmonized vocals, Phillips’s low-key delivery that just fits the material like a glove.

The one issue I have with Bread And Circus is that the material overall isn’t strong enough to keep the listener completely interested; indeed, I had to listen to this album about three times before I was completely comfortable with it. For every strong track like “Know Me,” “One Wind Blows” and “One Little Girl” (the last one being rather appropos for the world circa 2022), there are songs like “Scenes From A Vinyl Recliner,” “Pale Blues” and “Always Changing Probably.” These aren’t bad songs, nor could I make the claim they’re not fully developed. It’s just that there is precious little that stands out in them that makes the listener sit up and pay attention; it becomes background music, albeit pleasant background music.

Still, one has to hand it to Toad The Wet Sprocket for coming up with a debut effort that is as strong overall as Bread And Circus is. Playing the role of “armchair quarterback,” it’s easy to listen to a band’s early material, compare it to latter-day output, and note the areas that hadn’t developed to that point. But in the case of Toad The Wet Sprocket, the pieces were most definitely in place early enough; it just needed that “X” factor to push them over the edge—and to me, that would have simply been gaining more experience they could apply to their craft.

Bread And Circus is often overlooked in Toad The Wet Sprocket’s discography—as my actions (or lack thereof) in college radio proved. It’s not the strongest album they have, but it’s definitely worth checking out, if only to hear them poised to make their name on the world of alternative rock.

Rating: B-

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