With their powerhouse chords and heavy riffs, the Toadies still evoke nostalgic memories of the musical ennui and confusion of the mid-'90s, when cries of "sellout!" reverberated loudly through the rarefied air of certain punk and alternative-music circles. As avaricious radio programmers co-opted punk and sold it to a mainstream America glutted with Richard Marx and Wilson Phillips, the Nirvana-primed airwaves burgeoned with stoopid, faux-rebellious wannabes riding in on grunge's coattails. Standing way out from the middling herd, the Toadies hit it big nationally with the robust, cheeky "Possum Kingdom," one of the most lyrically thought-provoking hit singles of the era.
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Whether about hipster vampires on the make or clandestine gay romance, the menacing ditty put the Toadies on the map for many a rock-and-roll-starved American. Morbid, angry, ambiguous and occasionally funny ("I come from the water/That weren't no easy thing"), the band's roaring album Rubberneck came on like a brainy teen-ager, all wounded ego and looming brawn. On the long-awaited follow-up, last year's Hell Below/Stars Above, the assault was tempered--still plenty of cathartic bashing and howling, but with slowed-down moments, too. (As on "Jigsaw Girl," when singer Todd Lewis makes like a '50s crooner singing to his steady girl, but with one key difference: The heroine is cut into little pieces.) The group broke up last August, but they're back--for a little while, at least--promoting their recently released live disc, Live from Paradise. Enjoy while you can.