Zoo Entertainment, 1993


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


After I discovered Tool while in college radio, I found myself in a state of great anticipation. Opiate, the band's birth-cry, was an incredible collection of songs, but it was only an EP. Imagine, I thought, what these guys could do on a full-length album!

I don't remember what I was doing when I found out that Tool had finally come through and released their first full-length album Undertow, but I do seem to recall I found out about it while reading the Illinois Entertainer (a free music newspaper distributed here in the Chicago area). Completely stoked by the news, I ran out and bought a copy.

Unfortunately, Maynard James Keenan and crew hit a brick wall when it came to delivering the goods on a constant basis. While there are some great numbers on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Undertow that I still slam my head into the drywall to on a regular basis, the bulk of the album is a bit listless, almost as if Tool was trying to achieve something grandiose in one fell swoop. Unfortunately for them, they missed.

The high points of Undertow come right at the start of the album. "Intolerance" is a killer shuffle with a challenging rhythm pattern that reminds me a lot of the way Opiate started (with the song "Sweat"). It's an interesting comparison to make, and it's not a disappointment in the least.

Following that are the two songs this album will forever be known for: "Prison Sex" (I've only seen clips of the video, but it's a stitch) and "Sober". "Sober" is the kind of song that will have you gasping for air at the end; it's a powerful trip into the mind of Keenan and crew, and is one that should not be missed for anything. If I had to pick one song that was my favorite of Tool's, this would be at the top of the list, or at least damn near the top.

Things slip a little bit with "Bottom," though the spoken-word rendition from Henry Rollins does add to the mood (as well as bring the two alternative gods closer together). Unfortunately, this is where the words of praise for Undertow stop.

The remainder of the album seems to wallow in confusion, almost as if Tool didn't know what to do with all the remaining free space they had on their album. Cuts like "Swamp Song" grate on my eardrums (even though I can draw another parallel to a similar song on Opiate, "Part Of Me"), while the entire second half of the album, including "Flood," "Undertow" and the monstrous "Disgustipated" sink quickly.

What happened? I think that Tool's creative juices simply dried up; their next album Aenima would be a few years in the making, and was a marked improvement. It's almost like they raced to get this album completed, quality be damned. Sorry, gang, but quality is more important than quantity. I could have even lived with this album being another EP (cutting off after "Swamp Song"), and waited even longer for something of substance.

Undertow is still a mandatory own for the killer songs - but once the inevitable "greatest hits" comes out, I don't think there will be a convincing reason for someone to add this to their collection.

Rating: C-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Zoo Entertainment, and is used for informational purposes only.