Album Ranking – Tool

Today I present another quick and easy album ranking. It’s really easy when the band has been active for over 30 years but only has 5 albums to show for it. The “inspiration” to do this post mainly came from seeing people talk shit about the band, which in fairness is a common thing.

Tool formed in California in 1990 and … yadi, yadi yada, here were are at the end of 2022 with the album ranking. I did not rank any sort of EP or extended single release, this ranking only takes into account their 5 full-length studio albums. No point in lollygagging, let’s have at it.

5 – Lateralus (2001)

With such a thin discography, the bottom of this list is the “least great” as opposed to being genuinely bad or anything. Tool did morph into a new form on this record, offering much longer songs and dispensing somewhat with conventional song structure. It can make for a challenging listening experience, one which caused some to dismiss the group, but there is enjoyment to be had in the song selection here. The Grudge and Schism are more “conventional” Tool songs, while Parabola saw the band flex their creative muscles.

4 – Undertow (1993)

Tool’s debut put them all over MTV and in the mix of the early 90’s alt-metal crowd. Sober was the song that got everyone paying attention and it still endures as one of their signature moments. The album was a staple of of the scene back in its day and remains a worthy listen even as the band have moved on to other waters.

3 – 10,000 Days (2006)

Here Tool took the groundwork laid on Lateralus and went even further with it – long, winding songs that flied in the face of mainstream music conventions, yet the album was a number one Billboard chart topper and a multi-platinum success. Singles Vicarious, Jambi and The Pot were well-received and the title track is a masterful tribute to Maynard James Keenan’s late mother. (It was also a prior subject of my S-Tier songs series).

2 – Fear Inoculum (2019)

It was a 13 year wait between albums for Tool but the wait turned out to be worth it. The album features 7 main songs, each over 10 minutes in length. It doesn’t sound like something that should work but it does, for me certainly and for plenty of others. Other Tool albums have plenty of weird bits and interludes to them, here everything works to forward a concept of some sort and feels like a unified whole. Songs like 7empest and Pneuma felt worth the extremely long wait.

1 – Ænima (1996)

Tool’s second album arrived just as the “alt-metal” phenomenon was being shown the door, but Tool themselves would find staying power with this set. The album was inspired by the recently departed comedian Bill Hicks, especially the quasi-title track masterpiece that begs for California to fall into the ocean. Many other Tool staples reside on this album, including Stinkfist, Eulogy and Forty Six & 2. This isn’t a daring choice for the top spot, as many consider this album Tool’s finest moment.

That’s about all there is for this album ranking. This likely won’t be the final word on the Tool discography, though they certainly are fond of taking their time anymore. I’m sure the ticking clock of mortality will lend them to finding the studio before another 13 years has passed.

S-Tier Songs, Vol. 16

Time for another S-Tier song, and the second part of a mini-series started awhile ago. For a list of previous S-Tier songs and an explanation for how it all works, head here.

So I last left off with A Perfect Circle and their hit single Judith. The song was an attack on the deep faith Maynard James Keenan’s mother felt despite an injury that left her debilitated for nearly 30 years. It wasn’t the first time Keenan had used his mother’s malady as lyrical inspiration – the Tool song Jimmy from 1996’s Aenima was about his experiences being 11 years old after his mother’s injury.

And it wouldn’t be the last time Tool would visit with Judith for song inspiration. Judith died in 2003, and in 2006 Tool would release the 10,000 Days album. While the album title pays homage to Saturn’s 29 year long cycle of moons in orbit, two songs on the album serve as eulogy to Judith Marie.

Tool – 10,000 Days (Wings Pt. 2)

10,000 Days the song is preceded by Wings For Marie, a more intro-like song that sets the stage for the epic rollout to come. And while Wings For Marie is its own track, it’s very difficult to assess it in isolation, as it is clearly a companion to 10,000 Days.

The song 10,000 Days itself begins with a rolling, quiet intro that is clearly building to something and also features the sound of storms in it. The payoff will come, but this 11 minute long song isn’t in a hurry to get to its point.

As the bass and the storm rolls along, Maynard begins singing about the end of his mother’s mortal journey. He takes a shot at the hypocrites who surrounded her after her health issues, but then deliberately writes them off and focuses the rest of the song on Judith.

The lyrics accompany Judith as she ascends to Heaven. Rather than be a humble servant, Maynard says Judith should arrive at the gates proudly and demand her wings. She is truly “the light and the way they only read about” and is the main event at the pearly gates.

The song ends with a quiet reflection from Maynard offering further suggestion for what Judith should say as she enters the afterlife. Everything is a bit of a roller coaster in the 11-minute long surge of music and movements, but the quiet ending sums everything up perfectly.

The rest of the band is up to some real atmosphere generation on 10,000 Days. This isn’t a long song that just goes from point A to point B with a few riffs and fills – no, there are plenty of movements and changes to keep everything fresh and also flowing along with the varying intensity of the lyrics. Tool never was much of a straightforward band anyway, and they up the ante on this song with arrangements and progressions that stand apart from a lot of popular fare of the time.

10,000 Days was not released as a single. It was played live during the album’s tour cycle, but met with some resistance from a portion of fans. The popular cuts from the record were the singles like Jambi and The Pot, and in some instances people at concerts were screaming for those while the band was playing 10,000 Days.

The fan backlash, however strong it may have really been, coupled with the extremely personal nature of the song, led Maynard James Keenan to feel a bit burned by doing the song. He said this about it in a May 2022 interview with Loudwire:

“I think probably the stupidest thing I could have done on 10,000 Days was put myself out there as much as I did with the tracks ‘Wings for Marie (Part 1)’ and ‘10,000 Days (Wings Part 2),’ Keenan said in an interview to promote the album. “I’ll never make that mistake again. It just took too much out of me – too much emotionally, mentally, physically – all those manifestations. Those songs were exploited and misconstrued, people were flippant and dismissive. I won’t be doing that anymore. And technically, ‘Wings’ is very difficult to pull off. If any one of us is off, it falls apart and makes that thing tragic, and that’s not a good song for me to have fall apart. It’s just too personal.”

It is a shame that the song was shrugged off by some, but I know me and many others found it to be a masterwork. The majestic instrumentation along with the powerful lyrics that could only come from such a harrowing place were the perfect song combination. Tool no longer performs the song, though in part that might be due to a whole other album full of 10-minute long songs that eat up a fair chunk of a set list.

Why is this an S-Tier song?

10,000 Days is a triumphant movement, wrapping the emotionally-charged death of Maynard’s mother Judith into a masterful piece of music. It’s a movement that goes beyond our regular notions of music enjoyment and enters a kind of space reserved for the more transcendent of songs. It is a long build up for a payoff only paid if you have any amount of patience within you.

This is the type of song to be enjoyed over a course of time, and to be appreciated for the scope of what is being communicated. A “fan” looking for immediate payoff won’t be welcome here. This is for the more discerning ear, preconceived notions about Tool be damned.

Price Points

I’ve done a few posts about money and prices of a few different things recently. I thought I’d do a few quick updates and also discuss the insane prices of a few records. But first, I’ll provide two quick recaps of prices I covered awhile back.

Megadeth cryptocurrency

As I wrote in the original post, I was a foolhardy individual and dropped $10 on Megadeth’s crypto launch awhile back. That was in December when $MEGA was first on offer. The price was tanking when I posted about it, my $10 had whittled down to $7.

Here we are a month and a half later. My $7 in 21 Megacoins is now a bit under $5. It appears that economic forces have further stifled any fortune I might have made off Megadeth and cryptocurrency. I really don’t know what to do with these Megacoins so I will probably just ride this rocket straight into the ground. I could have done any number of things with that ten spot but oh well, the meme was worth it.

Tool’s last album on vinyl

I did a post just after we all found out that Tool were selling “tour editions” of Fear Inoculum on record for $800 at their shows. The price point was insane, even for an autographed edition of an unwieldy, super deluxe 5 LP edition in ornate packaging.

As updates to my original post indicate, the band opened up the “normal” edition of the album for pre-orders to ship in the beginning of April. Those not-tour editions came with a much more reasonable price tag of $170. Though I probably have better things to spend money on I went ahead and pulled the trigger on a pre-order. It’s excessive and not at all necessary, but under $200 is a justifiable price point for the ultra deluxe package. A more budget-friendly 3 LP edition could be manufactured, but as I noted in the original post, Tool are in no rush to get their albums on vinyl so I didn’t want to be left out. These will be flipped very hard when they hit in April, no doubt about it.

Vinyl prices are nuts

I’ve been over it a few times, including just the other day – vinyl prices are crazy. The supply is constrained by outsized demand and undersized manufacturing. Things do not appear poised to get better any time soon, it seems people are hoping that capacity magically increases itself or something.

One thing I’ve noticed is that the secondary market is really getting out of hand. I don’t know enough about it to know if it’s coordinated flipper/gouging activity or if it’s simply supply and demand. Maybe it’s both, I don’t know.

Over the past 18 months or so I picked up most of the Alice In Chains discography on vinyl. Facelift got a new reissue in 2020 and I got it from the local record store on release. I bought Dirt, Unplugged and Jar Of Flies/Sap as well, all were older reissues that I paid normal retail prices for. I don’t have the self-titled release as it hasn’t been reissued and goes for big money, I also don’t have 2000’s albums as they spiked quite a bit right after release.

But going back to the Layne Stayley-era albums I did get – I bought these about a year ago, maybe late 2020. Again, I paid $30 or less for each of them, they were all on the store shelves and priced in the normal $25-30 range. Here are the present Discogs median values for each of these releases.

Dirt – $111

Facelift – $37 (nothing listed for sale under $50 though)

Jar Of Flies/Sap – $109

Unplugged – $189

Those prices are crazy. Facelift is still holding serve as a newer reissue but the intent of sellers to mark it up is clear. The others have flown up in value and are approaching crazy territory. And, as usual, the copies listed for sale are well over the median prices.

Alice In Chains is a very popular act and their vinyl will remain in high demand. Everything could be reissued again to keep prices at retail for buyers who don’t want to sell a kidney for the records, but of course the supply constraints of vinyl manufacturing come into play. How long would it take to press new runs of these albums? Would the major label take priority at a record plant and shut out smaller labels already far behind on album releases, or will the label just let the high secondary market continue and do a reissue later on? It isn’t like record labels really care about secondary prices, other than to gauge perceived demand for a back catalog repress.

I’ve had thoughts about selling off my AIC records with these insane prices going on. I don’t want to mess with the online marketplace though and I don’t know what I’d get from a record store for them, so I probably won’t. But these prices are tempting to sell into.

Sticker Shock

UPDATE 7-6-22: This whole post is essentially obsolete now. The limited box is hanging out at around $100 , and a new 3 LP version has also been announced. Here is a much more up to date post about the whole ordeal.

UPDATE 2-25-22: Pre-orders for the Fear Inoculum 5 LP version are now live, shipping on April 8th. The price is a manageable $169. A bit pricey but far less than I was expecting.

We are in a pandemic economy, rife with supply shortages, inflation, and a lot of other things that are complicated but make stuff cost more. We are also in the marketing era of the hypebeast, where FOMO rules the day and stuff that is hard to get becomes all the more attractive. Combine the two and things get really, really expensive.

Even all of that might not account for the latest music-related marketing craze. Earlier this week fans at Tool concerts began circulating the news – the long-awaited vinyl version of Fear Inoculum was for sale to VIP ticket holders.

The price? $750, with assorted fees and taxes, $810.

There is context here, though likely not $800 worth. The record box set comprises 5 LPs. Yes, Fear Inoculum is a long album at a bit over 80 minutes but it does not take up 5 records. The LPs are single-sided and feature etched designs on the second sides. The packaging is a deluxe version to accommodate the lofty record total and the editions being sold are signed by the band. A “general” edition will be for sale around April according to the band’s social media. No word yet if that version is this same one just unsigned (likely since it’s already pressed) or if there is a different (read: cheaper) configuration planned.

Obviously there’s a lot to unpack here. I’ve never been one to gripe about high-priced merch, as a rule. If Kiss wants to sell “Koffins” for stupid amounts of money, have at it. I don’t have to buy that, I don’t have to buy super mega deluxe collector’s versions of anything and I don’t have to spend $800 to buy Fear Inoculum on record.

All this does point to a problem, though – is this the only version of the record being released? I don’t expect it to hit for a $750 price tag on wider release in April but this could be $200 or $300 easily (EDIT – It’s $169, expensive but not horrible I guess). And if it’s the only official vinyl version of the album available, well, that kind of sucks. It forces a purchase at retail right away or a prospective buyer runs the risk of paying out the nose for it on the secondary market. It does break the line of affordability, even when considering this is something of a luxury market in the first place.

Tool is not one to shy from expensive memorabilia. Their merch table features many items priced far above the median line for arena bands. Having a $800 record might seem insane, and it is, but it’s not out of the ballpark for the group.

Perhaps this is just a limited, ultra version and a baseline, no-frills set will be released? Sure it will. I’d love to have their 2006 set 10,000 Days on vinyl. That album has been out for 5,778 days as of the date of this post and no official vinyl has been released. And their seminal 1996 set Aenima? An original pressing exists and will set a collector back several hundred dollars. No reasonable reissue in sight. I’m skeptical that there will be any consideration to a halfway affordable version of Fear Inoculum given the band’s proclivities with high-priced merch and no urgency to reissue scarce or non-existent pressings of past records.

I can easily say I won’t be buying this record, unless something happens and it is cheaper than expected (EDIT – it is cheaper and I am buying it) or a different version at a lower price point is released. I don’t have the money to prioritize to a high-end collectible thing at this point and honestly I don’t want to spend that much on what amounts to one album. I’ve spent a bit more on a highly collectible set before but that has 26 records in it and was a different story at a different time.

Tool fans are in a tizzy over the news of the record’s scope and price. Not Tool fans are having a laugh at the state of Tool merch and the six-figure job needed to acquire it. I guess time will tell if Fear Inoculum will be made available in a more budget-friendly configuration later on. After all – if the album takes up 5 sides, that only requires 3 LPs. I don’t know and we won’t know until release, but I pretty well do know what album won’t be on my record shelf.