The Top 10 Tool Songs

Aug 26, 2007

The Bottom Line Here are the best and the brightest offerings from one of modern rock music's most peculiar bands.

Combining elements of metal, progressive rock, and even classical music, Tool stands as one of the most fascinating and bizarre bands currently playing in today's music scene.

Tool's sound could aptly be described as thinking man's music. Cryptic social commentary, amorphous song structures, and whiplash-inducing tempo changes are all hallmarks of Tool's music.

Over the years, the band has developed a loyal and rabid cult following, but Tool has also enjoyed some degree of mainstream success as well. Both Lateralus and 10,000 Days debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart in their first week of release. Even music industry bigwigs have taken notice, as evidence by the two Grammy Awards the band has collected.

Although the band has had numerous achievements in their storied career, the members of Tool are no strangers to controversy. In 1992, the band released the song “Hush” to radio and video outlets. The accompanying music video featured the band members posing nude, with Parental Advisory stickers covering their genitalia and duct tape covering their mouths. Evidently, Tool did not take kindly to censorship, and yet they continued to be targeted by retailers, radio stations, and MTV.

When the video for “Sober”, the lead single from 1993’s Undertow, was released, MTV charged that certain scenes were too graphic for audiences and after a brief run, they pulled the video. MTV was at it again when “Stinkfist” was chosen as the first single from 1996’s Aenima. MTV changed the lyrics and re-titled the song as “Track #1”. The controversy surrounding the band has dissipated in recent years, in part due to the band’s continued maturation, something that can’t be said of MTV.

As much as Tool is known for their dark, nihilistic style, they are also the poster boys for taking an exorbitant amount of time between album releases. In an era where music labels are demanding three-year album cycles, Tool has taken their sweet time recording albums. Since the band formed in 1990, they have only recorded four full-length albums during that time. Vocalist Maynard James Keenan has previously used the time between album recordings to front other side projects, most notably A Perfect Circle. The other band members have also been involved in various projects over the years during Tool’s prolonged periods of hibernation.

The band’s rather succinct discography may have more than a few readers wondering what’s the point of writing a top ten list from a band that has only produced 55 studio songs. Moreover, several of those songs are Tool’s obligatory ‘intermission’ tracks that rarely eclipse the two-minute barrier. Nevertheless, most people no doubt enjoy top ten lists, if only to debate the choices themselves or the order of their superiority from ten to one.

Now then, on to the main event.

10) “Right in Two” (10,000 Days) – 8:56

- The countdown begins with Right in Two, a song that narrowly edged out other contenders such as H. and The Patient. Although the track clocks in at nearly nine minutes, it’s a slow-burning number that features Keenan droning softly over sparse instrumentation at the onset. Danny Carey leads the way with a protracted drum solo during the bridge. Then Adam Jones’ guitar begins to pick up steam and the song ratchets up to a thundering roar with Keenan howling, “Angels on the sidelines again/ Wondering when this tug-o-war will end.” Keenan delivers a venomous condemnation of mankind’s de-evolution as a species. He charges that we are increasingly behaving like primates by becoming bogged down in one senseless conflict after another. Right in Two works not only as a damning social commentary, but also as a fabulously constructed song with a monstrous crescendo to bring it to a close.

9) “Sober” (Undertow) – 5: 07

- The song that arguably launched Tool’s music career, Sober is cloaked in melancholy and frustration. The song’s theme is pretty self-evident from the title, someone trying to escape their demons through drink while simultaneously hoping for a fresh start. Keenan deploys a searing snarl and calm whisper at various stages, and the instruments follow a similar trajectory of peaks and valleys. The lyrics reflect a feeling of hopelessness and self-loathing, “I am just a worthless liar/ I am just an imbecile/ I will only complicate you/ Trust in me and fall as well.” Keenan also takes several jabs at organized religion along the way, a familiar theme carried over from the band’s EP release Opiate. Ultimately, Sober is an efficiently executed blast of hard rock that still earns rotation on radio stations to this day.

8) “Aenima” (Aenima) – 6: 40

- If Sober is cloaked in melancholy, Aenima takes it on as a second skin. The title track, and much of the album for that matter, was profoundly influenced by the late satirist Bill Hicks, whose picture appears in the CD’s lyric booklet with the subtitle “another dead hero”. Hicks’ ideas make up the core material of this song. The outlook is decidedly grim - as if anyone expected anything else from Tool - and laced with a litany of profanities. Hicks had contemplated what would happen if California was washed over by the Pacific Ocean, and Keenan carries the ball as he barks out “learn to swim!” over the swirling power chords and sturdy percussion. Listeners looking for a bleak assessment of humanity’s future will not be disappointed by Aenima.

7) “Crawl Away” (Undertow) – 5: 30

- At number seven comes Crawl Away, another solidly pleasing cut of unbridled fury. Here Keenan agonizes over the evasion and eventual rejection of someone of the opposite sex. The harder he tries to ensnare her, the more she slips away. Carey is in top form, beating his drum kit with a focused intensity. As the song reaches the three-minute mark, the pace really picks up, with Jones uncorking a wild solo while ex-bassist Paul D’Amour lays down a lumbering bass line to give the song a strong underpinning for Keenan to unload his anguish.

6) “The Grudge” (Lateralus) – 8: 36

- The opening track from 2001’s Lateralus continued Tool’s trend of adding a more progressive approach to their sound. The Grudge is a towering song, filled with a dizzying number of tempo changes. Even so, it remains a cohesive and fluid entity, largely thanks to Jones, who steers the song forward with aplomb, while Keenan dissects the duality of holding a grudge. On one hand, holding a grudge reminds you who’s at fault, but it can also consume you and act like an anchor that drags you down. Things are further complicated when Keenan intones, “Saturn ascends/ The one, the ten/ Ignorant to/ The damage done”. This song is as dense as mercury, and trying to figure out just what Keenan is ranting about is likely to leave the average listener hopelessly confused. Fortunately, The Grudge is entertaining in spite of the lyrical complexity. The highlight comes near the end when Keenan unleashes a speaker-shattering guttural scream that is sure to bring a smile to any listener’s face.

5) “Push*t” (Aenima) – 9: 56

- Push*t will take a while to grow on you. My first impression was that it was too long, with a languid bridge that interrupted the song’s momentum. However, after repeat listenings, I came to appreciate its strengths. The best parts are actually near the beginning, with Keenan seething in a near whisper, “What is this but my reflection/ Who am I to judge or strike you down”. As it moves towards the conclusion, Jones rips off a series of increasingly impressive hooks capped off by Keenan yelling, “There’s no love in feaaaaarrrr!” In all, Push*t may not initially blow you away, but it will gradually dawn on you that there is more here than meets the eye.

4) “Lateralus” (Lateralus) – 9: 24

- The title track from what can be considered Tool’s crowning achievement, Lateralus is another one of the band’s patented epic songs. Filled with hypnotic rhythms and striking imagery, Lateralus showcases all of the best attributes of Tool. The lyrics remain as enigmatic as ever, and Keenan delivers them with hushed sincerity. The tighter production values also give the song an added boost, which is a welcome change from the rawer makeup of Aenima. Jones executes a howling guitar solo that brings everything to a satisfying conclusion.

3) "10, 000 Days" (10, 000 Days) – 11:13

- Ambitious, personal, and epic all at once, 10, 000 Days is one of the most beautiful and enrapturing prog-rock songs ever written. For those who don’t know, 10, 000 Days is an ode to Keenan’s mother, who was paralyzed for twenty-seven years – or roughly 10, 000 days – before he death. It should come as no surprise then, that the lyrics are deeply poetic, yet they reflect Keenan’s frustration with his mother’s strong religious faith in spite of her debilitating condition. Justin Chancellor’s thick, winding bass and Keenan’s soaring harmonies propel the song forward. The gloomy mood is enhanced with sporadic rain and thunder effects, giving this title track a weighty, atmospheric presence that will stay with you long after the song draws to a close.

2) “Vicarious” (10, 000 Days) – 7: 06

“Eye on the TV
Cause tragedy thrills me
Whatever flavor
It happens to be

- Moving on to number two, Tool takes aim at the media industry and anyone fascinated by the misfortune of others. Keenan and Co. decry the kinds of people who slow down to stare at bloody car crashes, as well as offering a more broad condemnation of the average person’s morbid curiosity with death and destruction, which they experience vicariously through television. “It’s no fun ‘til someone dies” laments Keenan atop a swirl of menacing power chords and kinetic percussion. Vicarious is one Tool’s more complex offerings, with head-spinning rhythm changes and a song structure that grows haphazardly in all directions. The resounding closing section of staccato guitars and seething vocals ensure Vicarious is well suited to a second place finish.

1) “Schism” (Lateralus) – 6: 48

Cold silence has
A tendency to
Atrophy any
Sense of compassion

- Here it is. Tool’s best song. Schism rises above all the rest on the strength of the spectacular songwriting, haunting ambiance, and stunning vocals. The verses tell the story of a relationship that is slowly beginning to deteriorate (“Disintegrating as it goes/ Testing our communication”) as Keenan seeks to re-discover the magic that once existed. Jones and Carey provide a rock-solid foundation of serpentine hooks and tribal beats to pull the listener in. As the song reaches the midway point, the instruments gradually fade out, with only the soft, echoic guitar melody remaining. The bridge is pure melodic bliss, supplied by Keenan’s tender meditation and Jones’ oscillating guitar rhythm. The band rears back for a pulverizing finale as Keenan roars, “I know the pieces fit!” over a unexpectedly heavy backdrop. Words cannot do Schism justice. Quite simply, it has to be experienced.

Further Reading:
The Top 10 Metallica Songs
The Top 10 Our Lady Peace Songs

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