Evolution Calling: Tool – "Cesaro Summability" and "Ænima"

A crunching guitar riff and pulverizing drumming unfortunately can't save "Ænima" from some lax songwriting.



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

Tool's "Cesaro Summability" opens with the sound of a newborn crying. Then, for the span of one minute, a loop of white noise plays. The song's title derives from a mathematical method of assigning a sum value to an infinite series. For someone with a journalism major and an English minor, this song seems to naturally repel me. But for the Tool fans who are bent on dissecting all of Ænima's meanings, this site is the closest I can come to describing the term. Good luck.

Running at under two minutes, "Cesaro Summability" can be at least applauded for being wildly experimental, but knowing when to make its exit. The same can't be said for "(-) Ions". And while "Cesaro Summability" has been described as a "filler" track by some fans, I can't wholly agree. To be a filler track, it needs to be almost indistinguishable from other tracks on an album. It also implies the album would not lose any of its impact (and in some cases, may actually be stronger) if it was left on the cutting room floor. Say what you want about "Cesaro Summability", if you're a fan of the band, you can recognize the song. Even if that means referring to it as "the baby song".

"Ænima", like "Forty Six & Two", is Tool bringing all of the themes of its second LP into one song. Maynard James Keenan spent months constructing the lyrics, and for what it's worth, the track netted Tool a Grammy. The song is drawn partly from a Bill Hicks routine and seemingly from one of Travis Bickle's rants from the film Taxi Driver. But instead of Bickle's wish for a cleansing "rain" to wipe the vermin from the streets of New York City, Keenan is singing about "The Big One" sending self-help obsessed neurotics, wannabe gangsters, and cellphone-toting Hollywood execs into the sea.

The opening riff is one of the most recognized riffs in Tool's catalog. Adam Jones' sterile, stabbing guitar playing is offset by Danny Carey's seismic drumming. Like the best tracks on Ænima, the song highlights all of the band's strengths in the most straightforward of ways. Unlike "Cesaro Summability", you don't need a math degree to get what Keenan is talking about on "Ænima". "Fret for your latte and / Fret for your hairpiece and / Fret for your lawsuit and / Fret for your Prozac and / Fret for your pilot", Keenan sings delicately while urging the much stereotyped Los Angeles types to "learn to swim".

Unfortunately, even for Tool, apocalyptic prose can be pretty boring. With the exception of a few creative lines (see "One great big festering neon distraction"), "Ænima"'s biggest weakness is its well-worn target of shallow materialism. Even the central lesson of the song "try and read between the lines" sounds like a rushed, lazy conclusion. As brute catharsis, "Ænima" ranks up there some of Slayer's most brutal attacks. But as a song that's supposed to be one of the final statements on a wildly ambitious album, Tool has proven it's capable of more.

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