Evolution Calling: Tool - "Useful Idiot" and "Forty Six & Two"

Tool gives listeners a lesson in Carl Jung and Drunvalo Melchizedek, but still remember to lay waste to your speakers in the process.



Label: Volcano
US release date: 1996-10-01

"Useful Idiot" is the first of three transitional tracks on Ænima. It wouldn't be fair to call them "non musical" tracks, but they don't share the traditional song structure of tracks like "Eulogy" and "H." For the vinyl holders of Ænima, it's a nice sort of psych-out as the track is essentially the fuzzy sound of a vinyl record.

The vinyl "popping" sound effect has been a cliché on CD tracks almost since the time when the album format was disappearing from record stores. It only lasts 39 seconds, but in terms of being a transitional track, "Useful Idiot" perfectly fits its purpose as a slow-burning lead-up to the album's masterstroke.

Tool make harder rock on "Hooker With a Penis" and stretched its musical ambitions further on "Third Eye", but in terms of bringing all of the band's themes together, "Forty Six & 2" is arguably Tool's finest moment on Ænima. It's also the album's most straightforward track, theme-wise.

If "Useful Idiot" was the lead-in, the beginning of "Forty Six & 2" provides a slow-burning fuse. The song begins with a fluid, creeping bass line from Justin Chancellor. Adam Jones' guitar briefly surfaces during the first minute-and-a-half. The calm, rolling procession is then slowly pried open by Maynard James Keenan declaring "My shadow's / Shedding skin" .

Despite laying a legitimate claim in the '90s for having the best bassist, guitarist, and drummer in metal, Tool employed just as much use of empty space as it did complex on rhythm signatures. And on "Forty Six & 2", the restraint is the driving tension behind the song. The relatively peaceful first two verses build up to a dynamic chorus nearly two minutes into the track ("My shadow / Change is coming through my shadow").

The chorus itself is fairly simplistic (the lyrics for each of the choruses deviates slightly), but it provides the necessary "shout along" catharsis of the track. It also ties together the two distinct schools of evolutional philosophy the band addresses (Carl Jung's theories on the unconscious and Drunvalo Melchizedek's theory that the next stage of evolution will include two additional chromosomes to our current 46). Few bands could get away with this sort of high-mindedness, and while it's true several critics made fun of Ænima's far-reaching ambitions, it helped that "Forty Six & 2" rocked like a mother.

During the last third of the song, Adam Jones lays down a swirling guitar solo while Maynard Keenan sings about the shadow stretching, softening, and changing over a person. The song climaxes in a jarringly brutal start-and-stop ice pick-like attack from Jones' guitar and Danny Carey's drums. At the end, it's only one note that's played, but its force is as brutal as a pile driver.

With two tracks ("Stinkfist" and "Forty Six & 2") that could easily end up on any person's "Best Heavy Metal Track of the '90s" list, it's hard to believe that at this moment, the listener is only a third of the way into Ænima. Though "Message to Harry Manback" begins the more abstract part of the record, there are still plenty of traditional rockers awaiting, and Tool has already given listeners plenty of incentive on Ænima to continue listening. But for those unwilling to listen to the album in full (either due to a lack of free time to absorb a 77-minute LP, or unwilling to endure another listening to "(-) Ions" all the way through), "Forty Six & Two" deftly sums up the disparate themes of the record, but not forgetting to kick total ass in the process.

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