Scientific evidence aside, it appears it is actually possible to be reincarnated from a Toad to a Dog. Well, it certainly is if your name is Todd Nicholls or Randy Guss, former guitarist and drummer respectively of popular college-rockers Toad the Wet Sprocket who enjoyed significant success in the mid-1990s but split amicably after the crowning glory that was 1997’s Coil.
On Lapdog’s debut album, the duo are reunited minus Toad lead singer Glen Phillips (who is embarking on a solo career) and bassist Dean Dinning (who was initially in Lapdog but decided on a complete break from music last year); and the 15 tracks on Near Tonight make for an interesting listen.
So, how similar is Lapdog to the Sprockets? Well, stretching the metaphors as much as possible, as similar as a Frog is to a Toad—there is a heavy resemblance, but investigate a little closer and there are characteristic differences.
For instance, the vocals of Todd Nicholls are given full-time prominence and the songs lack a little of the poetic subtlety that Glen Phillips contributed. Indeed, over the course of the 15 songs Nicholls’ voice begins to grate and sound flat, making the number of songs perhaps excessive.
However, after the strange choice of sedate opening track “See You Again”, the memorable melody of “Walkaway” rescues things impressively as the guitars crank up. Other immediate standouts are the moody alt-rock of “Perfect You”, the heavy vibe of duo “So Distracted” and “Won’t Be Back”, as well as the undeniably sunny chorus of “Anywhere You Are”. The sound may be a little different to Toad, but the knack for irresistible melody is still in evidence.
The remainder of the album needs a few more listens before the treasures begin to reveal themselves, but that’s exactly what happens as the trippy guitar of “I Don’t Mind” captivates, the slow-burning chorus of “Why Believe” registers and the guitar-led energy of “Figure Out” gives more cause to celebrate the rebirth of such talented musicians.
Despite the quality of most of the songs on Near Tonight, by the time the last tracks on the album come around the finger is twitching on the eject button as overkill sets in, but on the whole Lapdog has made an album that will appeal to fans who remember the musical pedigree of its members, and new fans looking for another take on modern rock. Even the fact that the artwork for the album was done by Brad Nack (who designed the artwork for Toad’s debut album Bread and Circus) confirms Lapdog is Toad, but not as we know it.
// Notes from the Road
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