Sunday, September 1, 2019

Fear Inoculum | Lefsetz Letter

Are you listening to this new Tool album?

I can’t turn it off! It takes you into uncharted territory and cares not a whit about the rest of the landscape, what’s a hit, what’s streaming…it exists in its own space.

Now once upon a time Led Zeppelin was heavy metal, I kid you not. And Black Sabbath was considered too far out. But as metal evolved, certainly into the 21st century, it became faster and more incomprehensible and obscure, it was made for a loyal tribe, and everybody else could come along if they were willing to dedicate their lives, but it was not for casual listeners, but believers!

In other words, metal became niche. And oftentimes one listen was not enough, you had to immerse yourself in the music to even understand it, it took full dedication, and in an era of increasing options, most didn’t want to make the journey.

I was introduced to Tool thirty years ago, when Bud Scoppa was an A&R man for Lou Maglia’s Zoo Records, when CD sales were burgeoning and everybody wanted to get in on the action/profits. And the Zoo band that hooked me first was Canada’s Odds, with their great song “Wendy Under The Stars.” But then Bud gave me the first Tool album, before it was released, and I immediately got it. That’s the funny thing about music, to paraphrase what that Supreme Court Justice once said about porn, when it comes to music, you know it when you hear it, it’s this indescribable threshold where you don’t want to lift the needle, but hear more.

And in today’s hit and run world that’s rare, you’re always fearing missing out on something better. Actually, John Mayer talked about this concept in “Playboy” re pornography and masturbation and it put a huge dent in his career, but he was nailing the essence of today, when those with the biggest megaphones, the big time media, often have no idea what is going on.

So to stop somewhere and say something’s great, that’s a huge step.

That’s what we’re all doing in the creative arts, trying to make you stay, get involved.

But people are wary in this clickbait world, if you overhype them they’re not going to partake.
And I was aware that Tool had a new album. I was aware it had been over a decade since they’d released one.

Then I read about the physical package, which humored me, with its HD screen and amplifier, and then the story became about how Tool was going to eclipse Taylor Swift on next week’s chart, which is only interesting because it’s Taylor Swift, otherwise number one is constantly changing, cult bands enter at the top and then instantly fall off after all the fans are satiated.

But with this Tool album…

I’m not saying that the album won’t fall on the chart, but it’s going to sustain, it’s not something you play a track of and then forget about, it’s something you want to go deeper into.

Because it’s unique, it doesn’t pander, it’s a journey to where no one else is taking you.

Everybody in the hit parade is waving their arms, looking for attention, it’s like you’re at the county fair and you’re encountering dozens of barkers… Hell, you know what it’s like when you come out of a big name show and there are people there with fliers, trying to get you to come to their gig, your main goal is to avoid them and for sure you don’t want to take one of their handbills, as a matter of fact, they’re scattered all over the ground.

And rock is supposed to be dead. But what is this Tool sound? It’s kinda metal but it’s also kinda prog, a sound that those at the Rock Hall and other positions of theoretical power denigrate on a regular basis. But Tool doesn’t seem to care about them. All Tool seems to care about is themselves. This is not an act that will pay fealty to its listeners, testifying that they’re keeping them alive, pausing to look at the sky and praise Jesus at the same time, this is a band doing its best to push its own envelope, which is something the youngsters can’t do, they haven’t lived long enough, they don’t have enough experience, they’ve got no frame of reference.

Now “Fear Inoculum” is an eighty minute opus in a world where they tell us to make it bite-sized, otherwise people will pass it by. But the truth is people have an unlimited attention span for what is great, and “Fear Inoculum” is truly great, especially by today’s standards, it’s a tribute to art with no pretension, not worrying about trends, this is the future we’ve been looking for, albeit from a band of the past. While all the has-beens are featured on TMZ, working social media, these guys sans mainstream attention have illustrated the possibilities of the art form.

Other than the relatively brief interludes, every track on “Fear Inoculum” is over ten minutes long. A bad idea if you want to get paid on Spotify, where repetition is everything. But in today’s world there are many ways to make bank other than through recordings. You build an enterprise and try to get people to buy into it.

And the forty and fiftysomethings who make up the band’s primary audience will instantly embrace “Fear Inoculum,” but then younger listeners will encounter it and become intrigued and then invested, because it’s not old, but brand new.

Now listening to “Fear Inoculum” is difficult in this multitasking world wherein you don’t just sit in front of your stereo in the dark and listen. Not that “Fear Inoculum” demands total attention all the time, but you need a couple of listens alone to pierce the surface first, and we rarely have the time anymore. Probably the best place to listen is in the car, but are you in there for that long to begin with?

Now “Fear Inoculum” is not for everybody, every last soul in the world is not going to salivate over it, but that’s also the mark of a true artist, one who doesn’t worry about satiating everybody, who wants an audience to come to them because of the quality as opposed to banging people over the head to listen.

I’m sure on tour you’ll see youngsters in the audience. Because you want to get closer to this sound. And it is about sound first and foremost, you just want to close your eyes and drift.

Now I’m not sure “Fear Inoculum” will completely resonate on earbuds, for this you need accuracy, power, depth, amplification and air to become involved in the sound, to let it surround you. This is music for the big rig, with only you in the room.

If you hate Tool ignore “Fear Inoculum.” If you believe music starts and ends with hip-hop, forget it. If you’re a popster, or a classical devotee, this is not for you. But if you lived through the eras of rock experimentation, you need to check it out. There’s a good chance you’ll hate it, but a tranche of the public will absolutely adore it and will not stop listening to it and talking about it.

Like me.


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