Toadies – Rubberneck

Part 22 of a series that will run every Friday throughout 2012 as I discuss records that have affected me throughout the years – Flashback Fridays

In the years after the release of Nevermind by Nirvana the radio waves (remember those?) exploded with bands mimicking the verse chorus verse song structure made so famous by Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Some bands deserved their status as Nirvana-lite or grunge wannabes (no names, this is a positive website) while others offered up something wholly unique (and were unfairly lumped in with the others). The 1994 release Rubberneck by Tyler, TX band Toadies falls into the latter group.

In the summer of 1995 I spent every free moment driving my ghetto Cavalier Z24 to Allentown, PA with one of my best friends. Where there are teenage boys – there are usually girls, and this was no exception. The drive from Richboro or Hatboro, PA to Allentown became our mecca, our 45 minutes to listen to music and be geeks before arriving at our destination. Once we connected with our lady friends we became cool (or really, really, really trying to be cool). The only problem? Each time we hung out with our friends we ended up getting lost in Allentown (or nearby Bethlehem).

Allentown is a mid-sized city just about an hour south of the Poconos Mountains (having lived in Washington State for 10 years, I have to chuckle that they are called mountains). Famous for being the city where the Liberty Bell was hidden during the Revolutionary War, it was also made famous by Billy Joel in his extremely bitter song “Allentown”. The streets are mildly confusing and we would drive all over town looking for elusive Cure bootlegs and import CD singles. Somehow, someway – we would always end up lost somewhere, trying to figure out where the hell we were.

On one such occasion I had the debut album by Toadies with me – in fact, I believe it was the only CD I had with me (played through the tape deck – CD Discman combo of course). I had enjoyed the single Possum Kingdom, but it didn’t fully prepare me for the noisy onslaught mixed with sweet melodies. Already the tides were turning against Toadies from the hip crowd – “Pixies ripoff! Nirvana ripoff! Too mainstream!” I didn’t listen to any of the chatter – and you know what? Almost 20 years later the album holds up far better than I ever expected it to at the time…

I’ll Show You My Dark Secret…

Mexican Hairless is an instrumental to open the album, setting the tone for the record – much like how “Cecilia Ann” set the tone for Bossanova by the Pixies. The music is aggressive but melodic, a punk-ish song of intent.

Mr. Love continues on with this style of music, but with singer Todd Lewis exploding out of the speakers, demented but controlled. Comparisons that come to mind – The Pixies, Nirvana, Bob Mould (in any of his guises). Important and talented company indeed, but it is deserved. The song does the old verse chorus verse trick very nicely, with the chorus featuring melodic screaming. Key lyrics:

Are you gonna save me?
Ya gonna make me happy?
Can you save me?
Tell me, Mister Love!

Backslider a deeper groove to this song, bringing to mind the bands’ Texas roots. Vocals alternate between crooning, a Texas drawl, and screaming. All really well done. The music keeps coming back to a repetitive guitar refrain with Todd Lewis screaming the title of the song over it. Key lyrics:

Well I opened my eyes
And my daddy held me in his hands
I looked up through the water
And thought I saw Jesus, and then…

Well I threw up my hands!
And I heard, Amen!
And I prayed, sweet Jesus
Don’t let me become a backslider!

Possum Kingdom easily their most famous song, also their biggest hit. The music locks into a catchy groove while the lyrics are sung in a story telling way. The incessant guitar in tandem with the bass & drums makes it easy to see why it was played non stop on the radio in the mid 90’s. Not quite grunge, not quite rock. Toadies truly struck upon a (mostly) original vibe with this album and this track. The vocals become increasingly strained and emotional as the track goes on, leading to a very catchy musical breakdown towards the last 1/3 of the track. Key lyrics:

I can promise you
You’ll stay as beautiful
With dark hair
And soft skin…forever

Make up your mind
Make up your mind
And I’ll promise you
I will treat you well
My sweet angel
So help me, Jesus

Quitter the music on this track reminds me of Fugazi, very aggressive with a hardcore vibe. The music fades away and we are left with the angry vocals of Todd Lewis. If you only know Toadies from the radio songs, give this one a listen. Builds towards an angry chorus, fits perfectly as a deeper album cut. Key lyrics:

Look me in the eye and tell me somethin’
Am I supposed to walk away with nothin’?
Do I convince myself we never happened?
Well I guess I won’t be denied
I’m gettin’ somethin’ right

Are you happy now?

Away this track has “mid 90’s hit single” written all over it. Starts off as a rock n roll bar jam with cutting lyrics about wanting (or not wanting) to be in a long-term relationship. What sets it apart from the thousands of bar bands is the part about 2 minutes into the song where it kicks into the ridiculously strong chorus. Key lyrics:

You say forever
And I confess I shiver
You say hope
I say that’s where I’m goin’

To be in the shade
The oldest trees above my head
When I’m away, I know in my heart
There is a heaven

I Come From The Water deeper album cut, a blues metal work out jam for the band. Vocals are impassioned and double tracked at times giving it a unique vibe. Key lyrics:

I come from the water
I come from the water
That weren’t no easy thing
It’s more than nature
It’s like my destiny

Tyler I’ve listened to this hundreds of times over the last 18 years and I still can’t believe it wasn’t an International #1 hit. It has all the elements of what would have been a #1 in 1994 or 1995 – grungy guitars but a pop based melody, cutting lyrics, and a perfectly executed delivery. Every part of this song is perfect – if you haven’t guessed, its my favorite tune on the record. Key lyrics:

I stumble in the hallway, outside the bedroom door
I hear her call out to me, I hear the fear in her voice
She pulls the covers tighter, I press against the door

I will be with her tonight!

Happy Face another blues metal work out kind of feeling to this song. A deeper album cut, but essential to the flow of the record. Standout vocals (as has been the case throughout the album). I can hear a clear Pixies influence on this track but twisted and manipulated by way of Texas. Key lyrics:

You and I have nothin’ more to say
We’ll do more than talkin’ someday
No no no more son of a bitch
No no no more talkin’
No no no more son of a bitch
No more happyface!

Velvet Bass is absolutely killer on this track, reminds me of something off of a Gang of Four record. Vocals are sung through a megaphone, a very angry song. Everything breaks down into a jam session. Lyrics are simple, but I’m sure we have all felt this way when we are hurt by someone we care about. Key lyrics:

Get Away!
Get Away!

You hurt me you fuck!
You hurt me you fuck!
You hurt me you fuck!
You hurt me…

Stop it!
Stop it!

I Burn softer feel to the concluding track, acoustic guitar strumming to open the proceedings. Soulful singing, anger simmering just beneath the surface. The music builds as the song progresses and the vocals become angrier / more emotional. Todd Lewis spouts off but keeps coming back to the title of the song “I burn…” each time pronounced with a new nuance of angst. Perfect ending to this underrated album. Key lyrics:

Feel the lick of
Bad religion
The finish and the start

In the beginning
We were smarter
‘n flame was heaven-sent

Through the ages
We got stupid
Now we must repent

And I burn
I burn

Toadies have released a few albums after this, broken up, reunited, etc. Truthfully, there are things to admire in each record they have released but if you had to pick one – this is the one. There is a youthful energy here with intellect behind the angry words. This record has been the soundtrack for many people who were into the alt-rock explosion in the mid 90’s. For me, it always brings me back to Allentown – hanging with friends, lost somehow and trying to figure everything out while blasting the CD in the summer night.

Join me next week as I discuss Johnny Cash’s 2000 album American III: Solitary Man.

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