What I Am Listening To, December 2020

This month I have been revisiting some old favourites and trying to expand my listening horizons into new territory.

One such novelty is the live recordings of the joint David Bowie and Nine Inch Nails tour. What was particularly interesting about these concerts is that for part of the show David Bowie joined the rest of NIN for a joint set that saw him and Trent Reznor perform reworked versions of songs from each of their catalogs. The most impressive of these being Hurt.

What I love so much about this rendition is how boldly and imaginatively the song in reworked and the original instrumentation only appears far latter in the performance. It is fascinating to see the same material being sung by the very different vocal styles of Bowie and Reznor. The contrast between elevates the song to a totally new place.

I have also been listening to Fear Inoculum by Tool. Tool have become infamous for their total lack of output for over a decade, Fear Inoculum represents the final breaking of this silence. From what I can tell the reaction online has been mixed, here are some reviews I enjoyed of ablum presenting these contrasting opinions:

What is my own opinion of this album? Before answering this question I must discuss the way the album was released as this has coloured my judgement somewhat.

Firstly, it must be said that after such a lengthy gap between this and the last Tool album I think fans deserve something high quality. One thing that annoyed me initially was how difficult it was to get a physical copy of the album. I remember going to my local music shop and asking if they had any copies to which the reply was “No” that they had sold out. This was understandable given the massive amount of hype and mystery surrounding this release. I then asked when it would be back in stock, only to find out that Tool had only authorized a very limited amount of the product. Further, having looked online later I found that there was no option to buy a simple package with just a CD, rather, this had to purchased as part of a deluxe package eye watering amounts of money. So for some time there was a bizarre situation where they only way you could get a CD was to spend over £50 but you could get all the tracks digitally for a reasonable price. Such a strange commercial decision on the part of the band and record label smacks of pretentiousness. I am sure they are many Tool fans (myself included) who are not rich and would have liked to be able to own a CD of the album for a reasonable price. Now this error has been corrected and a semi-reasonably priced redux version of the album with just a CD ad booklet is available.

This all said, what of the music? There are many promising moments in this album but none of them are fully developed or executed in a way that produces any emotional impact. The vocals have a very minimal presence in the album and feel at times like an after thought. The album meanders through motif after motif, build after build, but there is no real release, no climax, just monotony. At points it sounds like the band have become a caricature of themselves. The complex rhythmic sequences Tool are know for are very much in evidence, as are the intimate interplay between guitar and bass and the elongated song forms but all passion and energy are almost totally absent. In a large part due to the vocals not being present as a force in the music and the instrumental parts being so indecisive. The one notable exception is the excellent Chocolate Chip Trip which gives the listener a welcome break from the overly dry sound of many of songs. Instead, we are in the totally different sound world of modular synthesizers and the drums as protagonist play against the developing soundscape with aggression and passion. Finally, here are moments of excitement and the unexpected. I heard mentioned in an interview with Dan Carrey that this song was related to Billy Cobham’s pioneering work in the 70s that similarly involved drums playing against a electronically produced sequence.

Overall I think Fear Inoclum has great promise which is fails to deliver on, after so much waiting I cannot help but be disappointed.

I have also being revisiting parts of Garry Willis’s Album Larger Than Life. In genenral I have enjoyed this album there are many bold and experimental compositions here. However, sometimes the weirdness of that pervades the album can be a bit draining. I think I need to give this album a few more listens before making my mind up about it.