There will never be another band like Tool. There will be bands with mysterious frontmen. There will be bands that find emotion in talking about our greater meaning. There will be bands with drummers who make the most complex patterns look like child's play. There will be bands that know music can be art. There will be bands that write crushing riffs.
But none of those bands is going to do all those things well at once and have its 7-minute-long songs played on the radio before it hits the road to play arenas coast to coast.
So, yeah, there will never be another band like Tool.
Tool have been incredibly lucky. They were their most productive at a time when music videos still had cultural value beyond, “Well, we'll get some good .gifs from this,” and they were damn good at producing work that burned itself into your brain. They broke when different types of rock radio existed, back before you had to jam Mumford and Sons, Metallica and Fall Out Boy into the same playlist.
Perhaps most important, they were around in the days before we were oversaturated with information about celebrities. Rock stars used to be creatures of myth, modern vampires living a life of luxury the rest of us peasants could only dream of. Then along came social media to be the stake to our collective hammer of curiosity. There is no more mystery in rock, except for the kind that PR firms try to manufacture.
Even beyond that, Tool felt important because they weren't singing exclusively about relationships or living wild or any of the number of other boring subjects that modern music loves to trot out. Maynard James Keenan thought bigger than that, and you couldn't just hit Google to find out what “46+2” meant or what the extra verse from “Prison Sex” was that time you saw them live. You had to find your own meaning in their album art, and if along the way you discovered Bill Hicks, even better.
That you could be rewarded for digging deeper, rather than just taking the music at face value, is the reason that fans are still selling out their shows 10 years after they released their most recent record. You have a sense of ownership — right or wrong — over a band at that point, a fierce loyalty and a desire to hear those songs live, even if you did hear pretty much the same set list last time they were on the road.
So yeah, there will be other hard rock bands with technical skills and big ideas, but the infrastructure to get them into major venues just doesn't exist anymore. Think of all the rock bands big enough to play bigger venues these days. Seriously: Name them all in your head. Are any of them even close to what Tool does in terms of heaviness? Muse is close, but even the most staunch Tool-haters will acknowledge they wouldn't release something as cheerfully bro-dumb as “Psycho.”
And I'm not sure that is a bad thing.
For as long as I can remember, I've played this mental game where I try to find new bands to replace the old bands that I love. It's like a football team: Eventually players have to call it a career, and if you have nothing to replace them with, well, things get pretty bleak. And so I'm always on the lookout for the next Tool or Nine Inch Nails or Rage Against the Machine in my life. And eventually a Dredg or a Coheed and Cambria or a Rise Against will come along, and maybe they'll have some radio singles and maybe they'll have a nice mid-level sized tour, but in the end these bands never become superstars.
And now that I'm older, I'm OK with that.
Times change. Culture changes. What was popular goes out of style. Music genres don't die, they just don't command the same cultural currency they used to. The reality is that there will always be new music to fall in love with, even if going to see it live means seeing it in a club or a theater instead of with 10,000 of your favorite strangers.
Make no mistake, I would love for there to be a renaissance of bands with great songs that exploded into the mainstream. I would love to go to basketball arenas to see bands with big ideas and huge production budgets. I would love to be around for the next Pink Floyd or Tool.
But there will never be another Tool. That's not a good thing or a bad thing, it's just a thing. Be glad we had the Tool that we've had. Enjoy them on their visits to town every two years. Get excited if they do, in fact, finally release a new album this year. I'll be right there with you.
And deep in my heart, in a little place I don't like to talk about, I'll hope that another Tool does come along. I think to be someone who passionately loves music is to be an optimist, even when your brain tells you otherwise. And I think that for all the darkness that surrounds their music, that's how Tool would want it too.
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE...
Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.