Toad The Wet Sprocket

Fear (Columbia í91) Rating: A-
Playing a tuneful brand of jangly pop rock, the cumbersomely named Toad the Wet Sprocket was a fine, much under appreciated Ď90s band. Fear, the band's third album, was probably their critical and commercial high point, as it delivered consistently thoughtful, expertly crafted songs. Two of those songs, the gorgeously shimmering ďWalk On The OceanĒ and the catchy, yearning pop of ďAll I Want,Ē were even Top 20 hits, though the band didnít successfully build on that career momentum like many expected them to (though the almost as good follow-up album, 1994's Dulcinea, also went platinum). Instead, Toad the Wet Sprocket occupies a niche alongside other like-minded (and overlooked) Ď90s artists such as Crowded House, Gin Blossoms, The Connells, and Grant Lee Buffalo. Granted, thereís nothing groundbreaking here, and perhaps that explains the bandís low profile given the stiff competition the band faced against the likes of R.E.M., U2, and Nirvana; the unmarketable band name and this albumís forbidding album cover also didnít help the bandís commercial cause. However, the bandís enticingly eclectic sound, including some surprising guitar heroics, impressive use of soft-to-loud/light-to-dark dynamics, and evocative harmonies, all in the service of undeniably strong songs, holds up very well almost 20 years later. Itíll hold up well 20 years from now, too, and 20 years beyond that as well. Aside from the aforementioned singles, which for my money were simply two of the most perfect pop songs of the decade, among the plentiful other highlights are "Is It For Me?," which delivers bright catchy pop with memorable falsetto vocals, "Butterflies," which has some groovy guitar and a nice contrast between female spoken words and alternately poppy and moody multi-tracked male vocals, "Hold Her Down," which is darkly intense both musically and lyrically, "Pray Your Gods," whose quiet acoustic verses lead into a louder impassioned chorus, while angelic female vocals towards the end provide the proverbial icing on the cake, and "In My Ear," a delightfully tuneful keyboard heavy jangle rocker. But really this is a consistently high quality album throughout whose minor imperfections are that it occasionally veers towards pleasant blandness and I could easily live without the long-ish last two tracks; pre-CD era a shorter version of this album might have received an A rating.

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