[24 September 2001]
Abandoned Pools is former Eels’ member Tommy Walter’s current project. On Humanistic, Walter goes at it all alone for the most part, with occasional help from a handful of other musicians such as Sean Slade and Josh Freese. Having been an early fan of A Man Called E, I can’t say that I was ever completely sold on the Eels (which E fronted, of course). There was always something a bit too melancholy about the group for my tastes. So who knew what Tommy Walter was capable of outside the band?
Apparently, quite a lot. Humanistic is a fantastic album that could be considered a masterpiece of electro-pop. Walter has filled the album to the brim with 12 songs of carefree and bare emotion, the likes of which I haven’t heard in a while. Tommy enjoys strong choruses. Throughout Humanistic, he puts all the money down for them, allowing each song to literally explode forth in a melodic wrath that is nothing short of being completely captivating.
Walter’s voice comes off like a snarling radial saw, at times echoing Billy Corgan, but much better much, much better. This is the album Corgan always wished he could make, anyway. Blissful pop with just the right amount of piss and vinegar to kick the songs right between your eyes. Corgan’s fault was that he always tempered his pop with his obsessions for pseudo-goth crunch that resulted in not only weak songs, but seemed to also be about nothing but Billy’s own pretentious “genius” pose. Such is not the case here for Walter, who rocks righteously, but reins in the drama at just the right time before it spills over and stains the carpet.
“Then you can be the remedy / And I can be the enemy / And he can go and live as nothing / Then you can be the wanna be / And I can be the remedy / And he can go to hell for all I care” goes the chorus to “The Remedy”. Directly engaging, the chorus pumps along In a back and forth rhythm that takes the listener over the wall, completely into the Abandoned Pools’ own little world. Tommy mixes his snarl up with falsettos at just the right moments, taking away some of the lyrical edge. But not too much. Just enough to make you need to hear more.
“Mercy Kiss” rages like a monster during its intro, and then ascends into a melodic heaven of sorts as Walter’s voice soars triumphantly, his ferocious guitar notes punctuating his point at every turn. Then, in “Start Over” he declares “What a mess our lives turned out to be / It was at its best when you and I were only three / We can start with all the things that turn us out / And we can go right down the list and throw them all out”. Sounds just like someone from my generation. And in that, it’s perfect. At least I can relate, anyway. There’s been plenty of times that I’ve bitched about getting too old (only in my late twenties, even) and looked back fondly at those toddler years.
In “Monster”, Tommy plays things lightly at first with a few quiet verses and then finally unleashes the beast himself and the track explodes viciously out of its serene restraints. Sheets of guitars fall like rain as the sound becomes incredibly dense. Sort of like the thing Bob Mould used to do so expertly. But Walter is capable of waxing peacefully just as well. Both “Suburban Muse” and “Sunny Day” have plenty of sharp hooks to keep you pressing the “back” button on your CD player to just hear ‘em one more time again and again.
The cream of the crop might just be the sweet “Ruin Your Life”. It’s hard to imagine lines like “Time to light the fuse / And watch your world come undone / Chaos soon ensues / Blow it all to kingdom come / Nice one” sung any more pleasantly and serene than they are here. It would seem that Tommy Walter has a flair for musical irony, a device he uses for maximum effect time and time again on this album, and each time it is used, it never fails to miss its mark. Humanistic is exactly just that. Within all of the alternating tempered fury and blissful moments, there is nothing here that comes off as calculated or insincere. Walter has a gift for creating dense pop confections that manage to float like a feather even with all of their heaviness. It’s an album you should definitely give a listen to and then a few listens more. If this is what the splinters of the Eels sounds like, then I’m all for hearing more.