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Toadies

Hell Below/Stars Above

(Interscope; US: 20 Mar 2001)

Back in 1994, when grunge was enjoying its hey day, Toadies released their debut album Rubberneck, quickly selling over a million copies based on the strength of “Possum Kingdom” alone. Its “Do ya wanna die?!?” mantra of a chorus was so catchy that, given the right time of night, the right disc jockey in the right kinda mood will give the song a spin even now.


Well, the Dallas/Fort Worth-based foursome—spearheaded by Todd Lewis on vocals and guitar—has had a long break. Seven years isn’t a long time by many standards out there, but in the fickle minds of the record-buying public, it’s an eternity.


Naturally then, it’s time to either hope your fans remember your flash-in-the-pan success the second time around or reinvent your sound for the next influx of listeners; Toadies seem to have opted for the latter option. Straying as far as it could go from the grunge label it received in what was both its birth and prime, it presents its latest rock ‘n’ roll creation, Hell Below/Stars Above.


Unfortunately, it didn’t work out so well. As an album, this shouldn’t allow for more than a blip on most radars. Lewis’ vocals are strained at best, the songwriting is weak, and Toadies comes off as a cheap xerox copy of Collective Soul. And, considering Soul doesn’t have much of an identity to call its own, the band is more akin to being a copy of a copy: kinda faint and hard to see without a lot of squinting.


However, as a double-sided single, it’s pretty enjoyable. “Little Sin”, a paint-by-the-numbers jaunt of a rocker is the best combination of The Cult and AC/DC this side of Texas. And the song that immediately follows, the aggro-tinged “Motivational”, while it’s unlikely to be played at any self-help seminars in the near future, it’s two and a half minutes of bottled angst worthy of the most intense slam dancing circles in existence today.


And “Jigsaw Girl”, a love song of the most twisted proportions, nearly makes the cut of tolerable songs on Hell Below/Stars Above. With the lyrics “Give me your hand and I will hold it forever / On my nightstand in a box with your love letters,” this is the wittiest Toadies get, but the execution falls flat, no pun intended.


When this hits the discount bins—which, by all calculations, shouldn’t be too far from now—it’s a great single to own. Just quickly pass by all the lumps of coal on your trek to the diamonds in the rough.

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Play. Rock. Music. is a worthwhile attempt to reclaim whatever little shred of glory the band had during their halcyon days, if you can call such days that.
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