Evolution Calling: Tool – “Intermission” and “jimmy”


David Fricke is full of shit.

At least that’s what I thought when I read his one-paragraph review of Ænima for Rolling Stone‘s 1996 year-end issue. I counted myself amongst the cult of Tool fans who saw Ænima as an important album; one that fulfilled the lofty expectations set forth on Opiate and Undertow. Released when metal was still having a major post-grunge identity crisis, I, like other Tool fans, saw Ænima as a record that would do nothing less than reshape the metal landscape.

And David Fricke saw it as yet another album to review. In his five-sentence review of Ænima, Fricke set aside two full sentences of that write-up to poke fun at the one-minute instrumental cut “Intermission”. The carnival-like effects on that track are a lighthearted start to Ænima‘s second half. It also is the sound of the introduction of “jimmy”. While it may be slight, “Intermission” feels like a necessary component to the album. However, Fricke disagreed, calling for a “moratorium on concept CDs that come with lightweight ‘Intermission’ instrumental tracks”. He added, “If you need to take a piss in the middle of the record, just hit the pause button.”

Fricke’s analysis perfectly demonstrated that while there were hundreds of thousands of fans pouring over the lyrics, dissecting the time signatures, and philosophizing how metal would change with the release of Ænima, the vast majority of critics merely viewed it as an album from a better-than-average metal band to write about. For those that could remove themselves from the cult of Tool, Fricke had a point (especially if you listen to “Intermission” on its own on, say, your iPod shuffle). But for Tool devotees, Fricke’s review ranks up there with other notable Rolling Stone flubs, such as their initial three-star review of Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation or Nirvana’s Nevermind.

The oft-repeated cliché about a chain only being as strong as its weakest link could easily be applied to “jimmy”. In the case of “jimmy”, the weak link analogy doesn’t refer to its quality, but rather its normalcy. Tucked in the center of Ænima, in between the fan-favorite “Hooker with a Penis” and the ambitious nine-minute track “Pushit”, “jimmy” possesses a rare moment of subtleness on the album.

In terms of analysis, “jimmy” caused Tool devotes to widely speculate its meaning. Those that dissect the philosophical meanings of Tool’s songs claim the repeated use of “eleven” was related to number theory. Other fans favor a more concrete explanation of 11: it was the age when singer Maynard James Keenan’s mother suffered a debilitating aneurysm. Whatever meaning you may pry from “jimmy”, it’s arguably the most personal song on Ænima, referencing “dead Ohio skies” (where Keenan grew up) and its general message of reconciliation.

While “jimmy” may not possess the fireworks of “Hooker with a Penis” or the title track, it does contain one of the most distinguishable guitar riffs on the album. Adam Jones’ rolling chords builds up to a powder keg-like tension when Keenan finally explodes, singing “I’m heading back home”. It’s an arresting moment that efficiently encapsulates the entire song and its purpose on the LP. While few elements stick out in relation to the record’s other heights, it is a textbook example of everything that Tool did best in the mid-’90s.

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