Toadies: Hell Below/Stars Above

Dainon Moody


Hell Below/Stars Above

Label: Interscope
US Release Date: 2001-03-20

Back in 1994, when grunge was enjoying its hey day, Toadies released their debut album Rubberneck, quickly selling over a million copies based on the strength of "Possum Kingdom" alone. Its "Do ya wanna die?!?" mantra of a chorus was so catchy that, given the right time of night, the right disc jockey in the right kinda mood will give the song a spin even now.

Well, the Dallas/Fort Worth-based foursome -- spearheaded by Todd Lewis on vocals and guitar -- has had a long break. Seven years isn't a long time by many standards out there, but in the fickle minds of the record-buying public, it's an eternity.

Naturally then, it's time to either hope your fans remember your flash-in-the-pan success the second time around or reinvent your sound for the next influx of listeners; Toadies seem to have opted for the latter option. Straying as far as it could go from the grunge label it received in what was both its birth and prime, it presents its latest rock 'n' roll creation, Hell Below/Stars Above.

Unfortunately, it didn't work out so well. As an album, this shouldn't allow for more than a blip on most radars. Lewis' vocals are strained at best, the songwriting is weak, and Toadies comes off as a cheap xerox copy of Collective Soul. And, considering Soul doesn't have much of an identity to call its own, the band is more akin to being a copy of a copy: kinda faint and hard to see without a lot of squinting.

However, as a double-sided single, it's pretty enjoyable. "Little Sin", a paint-by-the-numbers jaunt of a rocker is the best combination of The Cult and AC/DC this side of Texas. And the song that immediately follows, the aggro-tinged "Motivational", while it's unlikely to be played at any self-help seminars in the near future, it's two and a half minutes of bottled angst worthy of the most intense slam dancing circles in existence today.

And "Jigsaw Girl", a love song of the most twisted proportions, nearly makes the cut of tolerable songs on Hell Below/Stars Above. With the lyrics "Give me your hand and I will hold it forever / On my nightstand in a box with your love letters," this is the wittiest Toadies get, but the execution falls flat, no pun intended.

When this hits the discount bins -- which, by all calculations, shouldn't be too far from now -- it's a great single to own. Just quickly pass by all the lumps of coal on your trek to the diamonds in the rough.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.