The month of September 2019 has been largely monopolized by two albums: Fear Inoculum by Tool and Lover by Taylor Swift. Their battle has been legendary: the chart-topping ex-country singer versus the famously elusive progressive metal band. There are hardly two more different albums on the charts, one a concise collection of summertime anthems and the other a sprawling, experimental work that doesn’t even fit on a standard compact disc. You would be hard-pressed to find a music connoisseur who enjoys both albums.
That’s where I come in.
Here it is: the final battle between pop and prog. Which record will take home the medal and be declared the biggest genre of 2019? Read below.
I keep confusing Tool frontman (or, rather, backman) Maynard James Keenan with British economist John Maynard Keynes-and it’s not just because of their similar names. Any economics student will tell you that as demand goes up, so does price. Tool, shortly after coming onto the scene as one of the biggest metal acts on earth, spent thirteen years teasing a fifth studio album. When the demand curve had become so curvaceous that people were willing to pay nearly fifty freaking bucks for a new Tool album, they released it into the wild. This stroke of economic genius must have made them an absolute killing.
My favorite track—not just on this album, but in the Tool discography at large—is the plodding, melancholy “Pneuma.” Centered around a simple, yet effective, Justin Chancellor bass line, Fear Inoculum‘s second track is a synthesis of everything Tool does well. The title track and “Descending” are also quite fantastic. I really enjoy the electronic effects employed by the band, and the rhythm section of Chancellor and Carey is as cohesive and thunderous as ever.
Do I have any complaints? Yes. It’s too long. There are several tracks (on the digital version, anyway) that I don’t think improve the album in any way. Also, even the really good songs run a bit longer than perhaps they should. There’s a lot of meandering bits with no real change or progression. I suppose that’s good if you like atmospheric stuff. I, personally, just get bored sometimes. They could have shaved this down a good deal. (And yes, I love ten-plus-minute songs. I’d just rather not listen to over ten minutes of the same dang riff!)
It’s still a very good album—Tool’s best, in my humble opinion. Many have conjectured that this is the end for Tool, and I agree that this particular project has carried these four talented dudes about as far as it ever will. However, if this album is any indication, their careers apart from Tool are far from over, and I look forward to seeing what they do next! Especially Justin!
I do not think I listened to a Taylor Swift album in full before the Tool-Taylor incident of a couple weeks ago. That said, Lover is actually not half-bad. I am not one of the prog fans who hates pop just for being catchy and simple. What’s wrong with catchy and simple if it’s good? At least, that’s my perspective. And anyway, Bill Rieflin of King Crimson played on her fourth album-titled Red, of all things. That should give her some prog cred.
Let me first state something for the record. The album’s hit songs, “Me!” and “You Need To Calm Down” are pretty dang annoying. That doesn’t diminish their earworm value, of course, but “It’s A Small World” is an earworm too. I think Swift would be much more popular among “serious music fans such as myself” (read in faux British accent) if the label would push her good stuff. Apparently, she’s been an excellent songwriter for years, and whoever decided to play “You Belong To Me” on the radio has been hiding that from us.
First, the title track. “Lover” is one of the most unbelievable love songs I’ve ever heard, as well as one of the three on the album that she wrote by herself. The melody is of the kind you can just listen to again and again and never get tired of. I particularly love the version that’s just piano and vocals. If you don’t want to do what I did and listen to the album from start to finish, you at least need to hear this song.
Some other highlights are “Paper Rings,” “Soon You’ll Get Better,” and “Daylight.” “London Boy” isn’t bad if you don’t take it too seriously. It’s pretty much just a bunch of Brit jokes. My main complaint would have to be the weird shouting in the background on some of the songs and those bits when Swift sounds a bit too much like Moon Unit Zappa on “Valley Girl.” Otherwise, there are some great songs here.
To conclude, on the scale of September 2019, prog edges out the competition. Both these albums are probably my favorite thing by the artist to date. Neither are particularly original. Nevertheless, they’re both very worthwhile records (and a lot better than what’s usually at number one on the charts), and they have two of my favorite songs of the year in “Pneuma” and “Lover.”