The passage of time has not been kind to many post-grunge groups.
The passage of time has not been kind to many post-grunge groups. For goodness’ sake, Bush just released a new single and is showing its age. The bands that survived, they got weird. Thrice has kept on trucking thanks to mathy tendencies and surprising emotional heft; even Stone Sour has kept it fresh (enough) thanks to an injection of positive thinking.
So by that count, Texas’ own Toadies should be frontrunners for late career solidness, if not excellence. After all, this was the band that rode to the top of the charts with a five-minute long single about vampire sex. If anything they should have gotten stranger since their heyday, right? Right?
Unfortunately, from the first notes of their seventh record The Lower Side of Uptown, that’s obviously not the case. The refried blues riff that slumps the album open is about all you get from the Texas gentlemen, who ride on disappointingly.
Admittedly, Toadies have been dealt a whole mess of bad hands over the years. After their debut album Rubber Neck (with cult hit “Possum Kingdom”), the band was royally and perpetually screwed over by their label Interscope. Follow up album Feeler was deemed to be uncommercial and designated to lost record status, only getting a reissue this decade. Hell Below/Stars Above in came out in 2001 and the label managed not to promote it at all. Bassist Lisa Umbarger called it quits due to stress, and the rest of the band followed suit. It took until the late ‘00s for Toadies to get back into the studio. And by then, some of that old, buzzing energy was long gone.
Indeed, the most damning thing that can be said about Uptown is its safety. This was a band deeply cheated by ideas of generic rock charters, and now they’ve just hedged their bets. No monsters dot the lyrics; Texas is replaced by a generic Southern vibe, and every riff could be accurately replicated by any teenage garage band. So formulaic that it dips into narcolepsy, this is late career paint-by-numbers blues.
Vaden Todd Lewis’ voice has dropped in tone and pitch, which you can’t blame the dude for, but he sounds tired throughout Uptown. When he sings the title of “Keep Breathing” he seems to be talking to himself more than anyone else. “I miss the tourist I was,” he growls on that track. Regret drips into the sound. Outside of the drunk driving anthem, “Broke Down Stupid,” there’s nothing summery or vaguely fun tapping at the noise. The partially acoustic “Mama Take Me Home” shows that Lewis’ trademark smirk can’t be traded for emotional upswing, and the chain gang chorus of “You Know the Words” is completely phoned in. For the most part, Toadies don’t dive into awfulness, just boring pointlessness. Uptown seems content to just chug along, doing little to offend and even less to entertain.