Toad the Wet Sprocket released Starting Now today, their seventh studio album and first in eight years, stepping a bit outside of their usual range but ultimately staying within the confines of comfortable rock songs that peaceably relax but sometimes pull you in for a moment.
Toad the Wet Sprocket enjoyed their heyday more than 25 years ago, romancing the love sick while holding down just enough melodic rock to enjoy on a sunny day. Emerging as one of several peculiarly named bands, that worked, liked Jimmy Eat World, Eve 6 and Better Than Ezra, all who rode the 1990s alternative rock scene to chart topping success, Toad the Wet Sprocket formed in 1986 ultimately finding success on 1991’s fear and again in 1994 with Dulcinea.
After breaking up in the late 90s and returning intact in 2006 as a touring band, Toad finally embraced their future in 2010 and got back to work. Toad the Wet Sprocket retains a core group with singer Glen Phillips, Todd Nichols on guitar, and Dean Dinning on bass. Josh Daubin replaced original drummer Randy Guss last year without acrimony.
I’ve seen Toad the Wet Sprocket live, once, when some band named Hootie & the Blowfish opened. Hootie’s stratospheric rise to fame was already well under way by then and before long would leave Toad at the smaller theaters while the Blowfish headlined arenas.
My second opportunity to see Toad was snowed out resulting in this rant because the band decided the show must go on, despite impassable roads. I lost out on the price of my ticket, so did hundreds of others, as a photo released the next day showed a very small crowd enjoying a, no doubt, memorable concert, for them.
I vowed never to see Toad again which I broke last week buying my first concert ticket in nearly two years to see them in October at Revolution Hall. Time heals all wounds, I guess. When the show was announced I figured an album was forthcoming and tuned in.
Toad the Wet Sprocket Starting Now Album Review
Starting Now offers a pleasant collection of 10 songs using soft melodies, acoustic breaches, and arguably a bit more dour at times than past albums. A few notables rise to the top, some country finds its place and one track that falls a little flat on the first listen but quickly rises to something very absorbing and totally different.
No, nothing remotely close to the rocking sounds of “Fall Down,” my #1 on a Top 10 Best List for the band, but the title track and “Hold On” reach back into the band’s repertoire of warm heartening melodies and Phillips sounding like Bon Jovi (15 years ago). Album opener “Game Day” slides into second behind those two solely for sounding more pedestrian.
The wistful “Transient Whales” reminds of that Phillip Phillips (of American Idol fame and unrelated) song “Home” though maybe not as melodious but certainly with more spirit coming from guys now in their 50s. If “Transient Whales” doesn’t break you, album closer “Fever” will. This acoustic ballad uses violins before a weepy guitar solo fills out the middle section all backed by Glen Phillips’ outstanding lucid vocals.
The country infused slide guitar on “In the Lantern Light” slows this one down to a contemplative walk without falling into the genre but “Truth” take a deep dive into the sound of Nashville along with an upbeat tempo. And, perhaps some irony or just plain truthful in the lyrics for “Slowing Down” as it does seem like Toad the Wet Sprocket has managed to embrace the stroll. The attempt at coupling Phillips higher vocals with Michael McDonald’s baritone (Doobie Brothers) on “The Best of Me” sounds weird. An interesting collaboration but instead of complimentary the song struggles to find its identity.
“Dual Citizen” breaks the mold though with heavy handed keyboards sounding right out of the 80s before incorporating a chanting vocal delivery in a dreamy quasi-club setting.
Nothing cutting edge nor an album likely to ring throughout college dorms this fall, but Starting Now serves as a reminder that Toad the Wet Sprocket once contributed to a soundtrack for our lives and has a few more songs to add.
Toad the Wet Sprocket Starting Now Songs
- Game Day
- Transient Whales
- The Best of Me
- Starting Now
- In the Lantern Light
- Hold On
- Slowing Down
- Dual Citizen