Heavier than heavy, Tad is back with a trio of deluxe editions of their first three Sub Pop releases.
Listening back now, it’s very clear why Tad did not find themselves immediately picked up by a major label in the vast pilfering of the Seattle music scene in the early 1990s. Of course album titles like God’s Balls and 8-Way Santa didn’t help their case any. Not that they were all that concerned. In fact, quite the contrary as the members of Tad unapologetically went about their heavier-than-heavy business, delivering one pummeling assault after another. It’s a sound so viscerally elephantine as to virtually defy description short of simply being forced to describe their sound to the uninitiated as, “Tad sounds like Tad.”
But doing so is something of a cop-out as the band did indeed possess its own distinct brand of heaviness and visual presence (a proudly blue collar/white trash/lumberjack aesthetic) that separated them from their more tuneful fellow Seattleites, nearly all of whom appeared far more groomed and ready to make the jump from the underground to the mainstream. In Tad’s case, the underground was their domain; a cavernous space within which to create the greatest of sonic poundings, mercilessly pulverizing the competition. In short, no other Seattle band managed the same visceral heft as Tad; what they lacked in memorable songs they more than made up for in the sheer mass of the music they laid to tape.
Having taken their name from frontman Tad Doyle, perhaps one of the most physically imposing singers of all time at well over 300 pounds (something he seems well aware of in the sideways smile flashed above hairy crossed arms bigger than most people’s legs), the band proved time and again they bashed about to the Neanderthal beat of their own drum. One of the first bands to sign to Sub Pop, Tad released their debut, God’s Balls in 1989. Reissued here in a “deluxe edition", the original album is augmented with three bonus tracks. Not that it makes all that much difference. If you’ve heard one Tad song you’ve pretty much heard them all. Far from a backhanded compliment, this instead is a testament to the band’s steadfast adherence to a particular musical vision even in the face of potential commercial success as Seattle gradually became a musical hotbed.
Instead, Tad delivered one colossal sonic assault after another, none of which allowed much time for the listener to catch their breath or regain consciousness following the initial blast of opening track “Behemoth.” With its unison scream of “Motherfucker!” scattered throughout the song’s chorus, Tad presents themselves as a gleefully uncommercial act hell-bent on remaining as such. Relying on legendary Seattle producer Jack Endino to help translate their monolithic live sound to record, the band set about doing what they do best -- namely channeling ‘70s heavy metal into something even heavier and more oppressive than any of their forebears could’ve imagined. It’s a massive opening statement that helped set a stylistic precedent from which they would mainly refuse to deviate for the remainder of their career.
The Salt Lick EP appeared in 1990, further streamlining the Tad aesthetic into blisteringly short bursts of agro-metal heaviness, this time courtesy of Steve Albini. While grunge has never been a particularly appropriate sobriquet for the bands to which it has repeatedly been applied, it seems more than fitting for Tad’s grimy, angry, dirty sound. Here it is as if the band’s sound had been forged somewhere in the depths of the wooded Pacific Northwest -- perhaps accompanied by a host of Sasquatches -- where it required absurdly heavy guitars and drums played at maximum volume merely to compete with Doyle’s throat-shredding, all-consuming bellowing. “My name’s Tad and you’re stuck with me!” he yells unapologetically before launching into “Damaged", perhaps one of the most appropriate song titles on Salt Lick. Here Doyle unleashes a series of unhinged, guttural wails as the guitars tumble and fraction in his wake. It’s an intense 2:46, but serves as an almost note-perfect distillation of all Tad had to offer.
1991’s 8-Way Santa -- here presented with the revised cover, the original having featured a topless woman who, upon learning of her non-sanctioned image plastered on the cover understandably sued – again finds the band in the hands of yet another producer. Having worked their way through the same lineup of producers then label mates Nirvana would source in the coming years, Tad enlisted the help of Butch Vig to further hone their hefty sound. There’s a marked difference -- a greater warmth -- that can be heard immediately on 8-Way Santa’s opening track, “Jinx". With Vig, the band managed to create an album that could almost be thought of as accessible, even spawning something of a hit single in the shrill feedback and rumbling bass of the largely spoken-word “Jack Pepsi".
Here the fully embrace the lumberjack/white trash image as Doyle details an ill-fated night of driving a truck with a buddy on a frozen lake under the influence of Jack Daniels and Pepsi. It’s a harrowing tale told with a raspy matter-of-factness that manages to make the idea of being trapped underwater in a pickup truck all the more claustrophobically unsettling. It's with 8-Way Santa that the band delivers their most traditionally grunge-sounding album, all massive walls of distorted guitars and Vig’s sympathetic production. At well over an hour in its expanded form, it’s an exhausting listen that can take its toll on the listener.
But that's exactly what should be expected when coming to Tad; none of the other Seattle bands were even remotely as bombastically heavy, willfully non-mainstream and, in the end, as revered. They may have been mostly left behind in the wake of the grunge explosion, but in doing so they ensured their legacy would remain virtually unscathed, a genuine relic of a bygone era. With these three reissues, Sub Pop has provided a great service to all those in need of concrete slabs of sound hurled from the depths of the darkest forest in the Pacific Northwest. If Sasquatch were a music fan -- which it may well be, who can say? -- Tad would be its band of choice. What more compliment do you need than that?