Sorry, couldn’t resist that one.
Prog-rock can be a cold genre. For some bands it feels like they spend so much time on their instrumentation and arrangements that they end up with a house full of condiments and no food. Lyrics are tacked on as an afterthought or treated as an academic exercise, exploring goofy fantasy worlds that are very pretty, but devoid of any emotional substance. They’re just an excuse for vocal acrobatics. While I do respect the work that can go into them, any joy that can be taken from them is akin to watching the insides of a watch work in synchronicity: elegant, but an exercise in engineering. Then there’s Tool. The songs are still astonishing in terms of the complexity of the music and lyrical structures. Actually, that’s not fair. They’re more astonishing, making many bands who dare to call themselves progressive sound like fucking Airbourne. The other distinction between Tool and the progressive pack is that when you pry the watch open to find what makes the hands tick you’re faced with a beating, bleeding heart.
The apex of both aspects of Tool’s work came, for me, on 10,000 Days, the band’s latest album. First off, the album title is a reference to the 27 years Keenan’s mother spent in a wheelchair after a stroke left her partially paralyzed, a subject that is explored on Wings For Marie and the title track. Here, Keenan makes a moving tribute to his mother. He both explores the difference of religions that created a distance between them, and creates a musical memorial to his mother’s kindness and faith. The songs’ overriding message seems to be that he may not have believed in her God, but that if anyone deserved a blissful afterlife, it was her. He even channels his own anger in the song in the lines:
“You’re the only one who can hold your head up high,
Shake your fists at the gates saying:
“I’ve come home now!
Fetch me the spirit, the son, and the father.
Tell them their pillar of faith has ascended.
It’s time now!
My time now!
Give me my, give me my wings!””
It’s an emotional journey, covering rage, remorse, bitterness, grief and love. All these emotions are laid out unshielded, with all the self-doubt and confusion that surrounds them. It’s a real heart-breaker.
But the lyrics are not the only tribute. For his mother’s passing, the band created a hidden song like none that had ever existed. If Viginti Tres is played back to back with Wings For Marie and 10000 days is played at the same time as both songs, the two tracks sync together perfectly, creating a new song. It really is a case of the sum being greater than the parts, the atmospherics of one track complimenting the lyrics of another, basslines intertwining, the second track creating a slight echo at the end where the lyrics converge and the two voices sing the same words for one moment, before breaking off into separate but similar lines, one hoping the mother has ascended to her God and one dealing with the feelings of the son left behind. The way they echo each other creates a feeling that they may have been split apart by death, but part of the mother lives on in the son. Original and evocative, Tool’s hidden masterpiece might be the band’s greatest work of art, and a beautiful way to pay tribute to a lost loved one. Tool currently don’t allow their music to be streamed, but if you have the opportunity to grab one of their albums, they’re a pretty special experience.