Hey, if you can’t respect the Toad, what can you do? If anything, Toad the Wet Sprocket has made a career (a surprisingly long one, at that—their first show was in 1986) of being a band that you’d be hard-pressed to hate. Sure, you might not like the music, a John Lennon/Lemonhead pop-inspired affair, but they might be the most harmless musical entity since The Monkees. All things considered, they could easily go unnoticed unless you own some of their albums. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s obvious that Toad didn’t need serious record sales or Nirvanian publicity to substantiate their existence, or they would have dissolved long ago. Relative anonymity (but a name hard to forget), radio time, critical appreciation or indifference, and a loyal fan base are enough to keep any inspired band going. And while other modern rock outfits may have felt the need to adapt to the changing appreciation of their music in the face of other styles, Toad have remained steadfast in their formula: no electronica dabbling, no hard rock, no rap. They have consistently produced songs you might hum along to in a supermarket.
The latest by-product of this unthreatening, unflappable technique is PS (A Toad Retrospective), which highlights the ever unchanging progression of this decade’s pop-rock answer to Dinosaur Jr. All things considered, there is no real room for incoherence in the album. On the whole, the selections here nab a little from each entry in their catalog, and tend to paint a respectable portrait of the band. Radio darlings like “All I Want” and “Fall Down” sound as relevant and fresh when they first appeared. “I Will Not Take These Things for Granted” is a touching and earnest ballad, which somehow also comes across as catchy and singable. “Good Intentions,” with its addictive guitar strumming and undeniably addictive melody, is possible the best song they ever wrote, and easily the best one Counting Crows never did. And even allowing for the obligatory lame clunker, like the eerie and scathing “Hold Her Down” or the closing “Silo Lullaby,” the compilation still wins out in the end.
Toad the Wet Sprocket didn’t create visionary music, or stunningly innovative music. They’ve continued down the path laid out for them by acts like the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel, but attained substantially less from it. No matter: unthreatening, simple, catchy, and complete is all I want.