By David Abravanel | 17 September 2008
Hey you. You like post-grunge? You remember Everclear? How about Silverchair? Does this line ring a bell: “I will treat you well / My sweet angel / So help me jeeeeeeeeesus?” It comes from that song that began, “Make up your mind / decide to walk with me / Behind the boathouse / I’ll tell you my dark secret.” A bunch of obsessives thought it was about vampires—the lame kind, not the Buffy kind; we’re talking the same demographic that will unfortunately make True Blood a hit—but really it wasn’t. It was called “Possum Kingdom,” it was by Toadies, and once upon a time it was a big puff pastry of a hit, catchy and full of that screeching angst and crooned verse/shouted chorus jelly that all the kids loved in those days. Y’know, the ’90s.
I’m not gonna do what you might expect of a CMG review of this improbable Toadies reunion album, No Deliverance. As much as they’re in the wrong era to be doing what they’re still doing, they’ve made a damn fun post-grunge release. And given that their peers in the genre having long-since exhausted those post-grunge options or moved on to indie-er pastures, there’s something admirable about Toadies’ insistence on sticking to their guns rather than running for Barsuk and getting precious. Toadies also deserve commendation for avoiding the watered down hellbelches spewed forth from post-post-post grunge acts like Nickelback and Three Doors Down. Now, No Deliverance is imperfect to be sure, and entirely out of its proper time, but all of that said, it is a very seductive reminder of what made ’90s power chord daydreaming attractive in the first place, and an effective rebuke of the new bottom-tier groan-rock bands that have replaced the types of bands the Toadies are.
“Song I Hate” is probably addressing a lover, but the lyrics are pretty easily commuted to the kind of music that Toadies make. “You’re the song I hate / But I can’t let go,” yelps singer Vaden Todd Lewis, in his best angsty mid-range growl. This simple refrain is still 90% less annoying than whatever Pearl Jam are forcing upon the masses these days. “Song I Hate” also brings back another fun ’90s alt-rock cliché: slow glistening guitar arpeggios over the wall-of-noise rhythm. Another winner here is “I Am A Man Of Stone,” where despite the lyrics that inevitably portray Lewis as a rock who is also really vulnerable—I know, but stick with this—there’s some juicy chord changes once you get to the chorus. Stoner rock harmonies never hurt nobody, and “I Am A Man Of Stone” does a decent job aping Queens of the Stone Age, if Queens of the Stone Age were more cigarettes and less red wine. The shuffling rockabilly on “Hell In High Water” is another blast of fun. I’m subtly reminded of another band of another band of Texans and their early-‘90s output, but while Lewis’ manly growl is a far cry from Butthole Surfers’ Gibby Haynes, there’s a sense of devilish fun here.
Unfortunately, all the devilish fun in the world can’t save Toadies from the smothering effect of trying to ramp it up to 11 with every song on No Deliverance. Taken on its own, a song like “Flower” could be decent grunge-metal, but stuck with the rest of the album it just gets lost in a sea of throaty screeches and forbiddingly overdriven sonics. I understand that’s what some people want, and I suppose there’s nothing wrong with it, but thinking back to what made a song like “Possum Kingdom” such a success, for me it was the variation. Ditto for the best moments on Toadies’ breakthrough release, 1994’s Rubberneck. Add to the monolithic sonics that limitations of Lewis’s lyrics—did we really need two songs about a girl with daddy issues being bad?—and the album gets a bit stale, even if the closing song, “I Want Your Love,” manages to distill Lewis’ lyrical prowess into a straight-to-the-point two-minute repetition of “I want your love! / Give me your love!” It’s hard to put it down on paper, but it’s much more effective than some of the longer attempts at narrative found elsewhere.
So, No Deliverance is an album lacking in subtly, variation, and any kind of quiet or reserved patches. That docks it a few points, and makes it a hard album to stomach in one sitting (I still can’t figure out whether “One More” is as mediocre as I think it is, or whether it’s just that by the time I get to it as the penultimate track, I’m already exhausted). But if there’s any part of you that misses some of the heavier sorts of grunge-metal, give it a try.