New 2021-album by Toad the Wet Sprocket, reinstates the Californian quartet among the absolute top outfits of alternative rock. Soulful, sincere, elegant, and well-written are among the many positive adjectives to label the versatile band’s seventh studio album.
The name will sound familiar to most people above the age of 40. During the ’90s the band created one radio hit and after the other, and filled the entire western hemisphere with catchy tunes. Even so, Toad the Wet Sprocket has led a somewhat quite existence – especially since their split in 1998, following their 1997 album ‘Coil‘. The band’s history, however, is a spectacular as its musical success. Let’s do a quick detour.
The band that walked on the ocean
The fact that most of the debut album ‘Bread & Circus‘ (1989) was written by lead singer Glen Phillips at the age of 15 and recorded over the span of just six days. The total budget for the album was a mere 650 US-dollars – a sum that will likely discourage any hopeful teenage artist. But an unwavering will and a good deal of talent and luck finally landed the band a deal with Columbia, more than one million sold copies of the album ‘fear‘, and an international breakthrough with majestic evergreens; “All I Want” and “Walk on the Ocean“.
The rest is, of course, history. Major success and then the band split up in 1998 – like so many other successful bands do. But, then during 2006 the quartet found each other again, more experienced and far more focused on what is fun and what is not. A 34-gig live tour reconciled the band and in 2010 the band released the song “It Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas” – their first in 11 years.
Reconnecting with the fan base
But it took the band another handful of years to get enough new songs compiled to craft a much anticipated album. The began by creating their own label, Abe’s Records, and then rerecorded some of their greatest hits. Then in 2013 the quartet was ready with no less than 15 new and quintessential TTWS songs. The album ‘New Constellation‘ was an instant favorite with this blogger. Especially the title track as well as the song “California Wasted” made a great impression. The band was back!
Apparently, Latebar was not alone. Starting up a new label requires help, so the band asked the fans for money to advertise the album. A Kickstarter crowdfounding was established and a goal of US$50,000 was set… and met within the first 24 hours. In fact, more than an additional US$200,000 rolled in in the span of the first weeks. No doubt, there fans were still there.
New album another new start
Although the fans loved ‘New Constellation‘, the reviews were somewhat lukewarm. Most enjoyed the old sound of TTWS, but missed a direction or a thread through the otherwise well-composed album. Whether the band felt ready to re-conquer the world at the time, we cannot say. But, this time around the band seems sharper and more sincere than ever. ‘Starting Now‘ is an even better album. Period!
Already from the opener ‘Game Day‘ you sense something’s afoot. The line: “There’s too much at stake – to let it slip away” says it loud and clear. This time the band really means business.
There’s too much at stake – to let it slip awayGlen Phillips, ‘Game Day’
The song is about seizing the day, letting go of things holding us back, and doing the things that gives life true meaning. Simple, you say? Sure, but in the hands of the Toads it becomes beautiful and extremely elegant. Just give it a listen, follow the crispy guitar patterns, and enjoy the pixie dust, sifting magically throughout the track.
The same goes for the band’s other obvious album hit, the title track ‘Starting Now‘. An archetypal Toad tune, some will say. But, this blogger finds the beautiful dance between guitar and piano utterly breathtaking. The same lovely kind of playful guitar patterns is present in ‘Hold On‘.
What also underlines the sincerity of the revitalized Santa Barbara outfit, is the album’s strong ballads. Tracks such as ‘In the Latern Light‘ and the heartbreaking ‘Fever‘ will be crowd pleasers, if there ever were any. The latter really is the strongest track on the album. It brings the past and the present together in an epic composition about what happens if we don’t take better care of our planet.
When the Earth is burningGlen Phillips, ‘Fever’
Fever on her brow
Crying, oh my children
Who will save you now
Fun, games, and Michael McDonald
As always TTWS makes sure nobody goes home sad or depressed. Life is too important, and there’s nothing better than songs you can sing along to. That’s exactly what ‘The Best of Me‘ brings to the venue. Having superstar Michael McDonald create a duet-like session with lead singer Glen Phillips is just a brilliant idea. The old Doobie Brother once again adds that extra bit a grandiosity, you never realized the recipe was missing.
‘Truth‘ is another of the Sprockets’ more festive features on the album. With awesome Hammond, elegant slide guitar and an energetic country/western whip at the drums not even a deaf person can ignore, the quartet sends everybody to the dancefloor with a rockabilly sensation rarely heard these days. This blogger gives full credit for making this move.
Going off the beaten track
If critics missed a bit of bravery and experimentation on the previous album ‘New Constellation‘, the band certainly tries to accommodate these critical reviewers on ‘Starting Now‘. With the electronic and dream-like slumber, ‘Dual Citizen‘ ventures right back to 2021 and follows trendsetters like Mark Ronson and Nick Rhodes into the twilight where traditional rock meets electronica. It’s moody, it’s mysterious, and it’s suits the band surprisingly well.
We love it to bits!
‘Starting Now‘ comprises the following tracks
- Game Day
- Sentient Whales
- The Best of Me
- Starting Now
- In the Lantern Light
- Hold On
- Slowing Down
- Dual Citizen
This album certainly goes on this blog’s ‘Album of the Year‘-list. We love the fact, that Glen Phillips have songs to give and a band, willing to give them life. And even though drummer and founding member Randy Guss sadly had to leave the with health issues, this blogger feels confident this outfit will be around for many years to come. Guss’ replacement, Josh Daubin, has found his place behind the drums has done a tremendous job keeping that Sprocket-vibe alive.
We are looking forward to catching up on the forthcoming tour that primarily will cover the US during the winter – with a few detours to Mexico and Canada. Hopefully, Europe will be on the updated tour calendar later in 2022.