I heart Toad the Wet Sprocket. When you’re young and depressed, and writing the lyrics to The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” over and over again in your diary, there’s nothing better than more sad music full of longing. Because, you know, that’s what Toad was all about, in the beginning.
When I was in high school, I had this friend named Jenny. She was this total cheerleader type who somehow fell, like me, in with the skater boys. Unlike me, she had this knack for finding bootlegs of Gang of Four and Love & Rockets, and she seemed to always know what was going to be cool next. I’m proud to say I picked this talent up a couple of years later, working in college radio, but at the time, I wanted to “discover” something. So, one day, flipping through my BMG catalog, I saw this band. “Toad the Wet Sprocket.” That sounded sufficiently alternative. I bought it. The album was Pale and I was 14.
Recently, I brought Toad along on a road trip and thought, “Fuck. This band still kicks ass.” So herein lies my annotated gushing about the band, songs, and albums, along with a little trip down memory lane.
Bread and Circus
This was actually my second purchase, although it’s Toad’s first album. I bought it two days after attending my first Toad concert, where I met a boy named Mark. You know, he was hot. Very skater boy with blond hair, all one length, down to his chin. He kept yelling “Always Changing Probably!” at the band, and I didn’t know what that meant. Because I only had Pale, see. So Mark and I danced and he probably put his hands on my hips, if I’m remembering correctly, and after the show he asked if he could drive me home, even though he’d driven three and a half hours from another state to see the band. I agreed, and my best friend worried that I was going to wind up dead on the side of the road. I could have, I guess. But he was cute and had a friend with him (which is worse, now that I think about it), and he drove me home and we kissed in the front seat of the car while his friend sat in the back. The point to this story isn’t that he was hot or a good kisser, but that he told me all about Bread and Circus, which I went out and bought two days later. I am, believe it or not, wearing a jean jacket right now that he gave to me that night, because I was cold.
This album is full of great stuff, but my favorites are:
- “Know Me”: This is probably one of my very favorite Toad songs ever. It fed into my teen angst like nobody’s business, but it’s also catchy and singable. I love how Glen’s voice gets all growly. Am I just some fool?/Am I far from ready?/Just let me fall/And I’ll believe you/Chained up and pampered/I strain until I crack/Know me/Before you kill what I want to be.
- “One Wind Blows”: This has a very fun clapping thing under the chorus. I like it, and am tapping both my feet while listening. Couldn’t sleep/Something kept me still/And wide awake/Gnawing at my breast/ Something I don’t know/I couldn’t shake it.
- “Always Changing Probably”: Well, obviously this would go on the list. But it really is a fantastic song. I wanted to tell her the truth/But I’m always afraid that it’s not in her heart/Wanted to say how I felt/But I’m always afraid that she’ll stop when I start.
- “One Little Girl”: Toad would go on to produce lots of songs about violence against women. This is the first. One little girl is beaten till she faints/Told that this is love/Told that she will have to take it/One little girl is just a bit confused/Thought that she was human, too.
The album that started it all. I listened to it non-stop for months after I bought it. Strangely, it’s been stolen from me three times. The original tape got taken out of my first car, a 1975 MGB. They also took, for whatever reason, my gearshift knob, and nothing else. I replaced the tape with a CD, which then went missing when I worked at my college newspaper. That was replaced with another CD, which someone borrowed from my office at my first ad agency, and never brought back. I just replaced THAT copy, a month or so ago, when I found it in the bargain bin at Borders. And what a bargain. This album boulders.
A smattering of my favorite songs:
- “Come Back Down”: This song has mandolin by Marvin Etzioni. You should also go run down a copy of his album The Mandolin Man for a fucking fantastic version of “Can’t Cry Hard Enough.” Anyway, this Toad song has a nice loping rhythm, despite its depressing subject matter. I’ve come here a thousand times/Some things never change/Yes I will, anything you say/I’ve quit, this a million times/Can’t quite stay away/Just one more time/I’ll be okay/But I’m, I’m so damn tired/When I come back down/The wall I crash into/Anything you want from me I’ll do/ When I come back down.
- “Don’t Go Away”: This is the one. Right here. The one that got me hooked on this band and served as the soundtrack to many, many nights of self-pitying tears. You know, you can apply this to any friendship ever, but it works best with the ones gone awry. We were sharing so many words and feelings/Age is heavier it seems, than years alone/But I told you things that I wouldn’t dream of telling anyone/Are we drying out like flowers from a forgotten someone?/Don’t go away/I can’t feel the same without you.
- “Jam”: This is a really understated song. I had forgotten how much I liked it. Says she needs a worshipper/Someone who’ll do anything at all for her/Wishful thinker.
- “She Cried”: The verses of this sound like something you’d hear in a smarmy lounge act, but it’s just as sad as you’d expect from the title. She waits alone/Dried out hopes/And dormant phone/She waits for years/And fantasies melt/New ones appear/But they won’t help.
This album produced the band’s first big hit, “All I Want,” and thrust them upon the mainstream. Oh, god, I was so MAD because now all these annoying cheerleader types were walking around wearing Toad t-shirts and all the prom themes that year were “All I Want” and I wanted to KILL someone because when I wore Toad shirts years earlier I got made fun of. It was very traumatizing. The second time I saw them in concert was during this tour, and I was working at the radio station. The boys came in to do an interview, play a song or two, and we all went out for Chinese food. I was in heaven, until I realized Glen had gotten married. Then I was depressed. But they were all fantastic, and all shorter than me but one. The actual concert was a disaster, as over half the crowd only knew the one hit song and stood around dumbly for the rest. Plus, some dumb-ass girl got on stage during “Hold Her Down” and started yelling at the band for advocating rape. They almost called the show off halfway through, and when I went to say goodbye to them in their bus they were bitching about how much they hated the success of “All I Want” and Glen was sort of weepy. I felt very ashamed of my hometown, in that moment.
Some of the best songs from this album:
- “Hold Her Down”: It’s not advocating, trust me. The band got a lot more produced and a lot more rockesque on this album. This song still sounds like old Toad, only with more guitar. And they don’t know her/But what the fuck/They’ve got nothing else they can do/And they’ve no reason/But still they come/And I would have a hard time facing you/This crime/The shame of what a man can do.
- “Something to Say”: This is terribly sweet, something Toad doesn’t do often. No angst here. You can take me down/Show me your home/Not the place where you live/But the place where you belong/You can bend my ear/We can talk all day/Just make sure I’m around when you’ve finally got something to say.
- “In My Ear”: Toad’s version of a kiss-off song, completely eloquent. Never meant half of the things that I said to you/So you know, there’s a half that might be true/Standing with the perfect view/I could not go far enough away from you/I’ve seen it all before and I know it’s only words.
- “I Will Not Take These Things For Granted”: As if they needed to prove that they could still make me weep, the album closes with this. Sniffle. How can I hold a part of me that only you can carry?/It needs a strength I haven’t found/But if it’s frightening, I’ll bear the cold/And on the telephone/You offer warm asylum.
I had a feeling this was one of those quickly-release-a-live-album-to-capitalize-on-commercial-success sort of ventures, but it appears to be a promotional CD. The little sticker on the front of the jewel case says I paid $4.50 for it. Hmm. Not bad for five songs. It’s got rocking live renditions of “Jam,” “One Little Girl,” “Scenes From a Vinyl Recliner,” “Come Back Down” and “Hold Her Down.”
By the time this was released my interest in Toad was waning. I’ll blame the popularity of Fear, because at this point in my life I was still trying to snub anything that wasn’t cutting edge. Seems laughable now, given my proclivities toward a certain pesky boyband. Dulcinea is a fully evolved Toad: from the sort-of-sappy, angsty songs on Bread and Circus, through the more guitar-driven songs of Fear and now you have this. I miss the old days, though, when they sounded like they were recording in tiny studios on a shoestring budget.
A handful of good stuff:
- “Fly From Heaven”: I’ve always admired the way the first songs on every Toad album are not necessarily the best ones, but totally set the tone for everything after. For instance, Pale starts off angsty and never stops. Dulcinea starts out more philosophical than Toad has been before, and the rest follows. Will it be the end?/Or is he still ascending?/But if he’s all you say/Would he fly from heaven/To this world again?
- “Something’s Always Wrong”: I think this makes an appearance in every mixed tape I made between 1995-97. Another game of putting things aside/As if we’ll come back to them some time/A brace of hope, a pride of innocence/And you would say/Something’s always wrong.
- “Stupid” and “Nanci”: I mention these together because they’re both jaunty little tunes reminiscent of some of the earlier stuff Toad used to do when they weren’t depressing me. I can’t believe you/You bend your words like Uri Gellar’s spoons/Not quite safe here/When every judgment seems to smack of doom/Are you okay?/I’m just fine/You take Nanci/For me Loretta’s fine.
- “Fall Down”: When I started running, um, the first time, I used to put this on repeat. Its driving beat kept me going for miles. Well the good times never stay/And the cheap thrills always seem to fade away/When will we fall down?
In Light Syrup
One of those rarities and B-Sides albums, I held off on buying this for a long time. Several of the songs were on movie soundtracks. “Brother” can also be found on the So I Married An Axe Murderer album (which you should own for “Harriet, Harriet, Hard-Hearted Harbinger of Haggis”). “Little Heaven” was on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer soundtrack, you may remember it as the song they played at the big dance. “Good Intentions” was on the Friends soundtrack. My favorite here is “Hobbit on the Rocks.”
By the time this was released, I was buying Toad albums out of habit, and this sat on my CD shelf for many months before I gave it a good listen. It drags in several places, and really lacks the cohesiveness of their earlier work. It’s no wonder that the band stopped recording together some time after this. It’s like they didn’t have anything left to give.
- “Whatever I Fear”: This is very bitter, and one wonders if it’s a reflection of the band being together for so many years, without really becoming The Next Big Thing. There’s almost nothing left/You eat my kind for breakfast/What did I expect/To come here and find anyone?
- “Come Down”: I hate to pick consecutive tracks, but this just seems to go with “Whatever I Fear,” like they’re two parts of the same whole. These songs were made for playing on the radio, just a couple of years after the band hit its prime. You did right to call my bluff/’Cause I won’t say when I’ve had enough/And I worked so hard to need this stuff/And you tried so long to just ignore it/Won’t you come down where I am.