It’s time for some new music as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out recent releases from metal groundbreakers Tool, blues chanteuse Beth Hart, Canadian journeyman Leeroy Stagger and facial tattoo aficionado Post Malone.
New Album from an Old Artist
Tool: Fear Inoculum
Formed in 1990 in Los Angeles, Tool are one of those bands that evoke a kind of hushed reverence among serious musicians and critics. Starting life as a metal band with more intelligent than usual lyrics on their 1993 debut Undertow, the band quickly evolved beyond the constraints of a single genre. Led by vocalist Maynard James Keenan and drummer Danny Carey, the band embraced prog-rock on 1996’s Ænima before taking a deep dive into musical experimentation with 2001’s Lateralus and 2006’s 10,000 Days.
And then… Tool went quiet. Well, as quiet as a band like Tool can go. Rumours of a new album circulated while the band fought lawsuits and pursued side projects, with fans hoping for a release in 2014. And then again in 2015, 2016 and 2018. Finally, on 30 August 2019, Tool released their fifth studio album, Fear Inoculum. And do you know what? It’s worth the wait.
Kicking off with the ten-minute title track, Fear Inoculum builds a mood of menace that continues to grow throughout the 80-minute runtime. Referencing themes from ageing and the inevitability of change to the declining state of the world, Fear Inoculum is a complex album that absolutely requires repeat listens. On first pass, it’s amazing and almost overwhelming, but subsequent plays reveal hidden layers and recurring themes, not least the prevalence of the number 7.
While the music is undeniably awesome, possibly my favourite thing about Fear Inoculum is the story of Taylor Swift fans taking to social media in droves to complain about this ‘new band’ Tool that had pushed their heroine off the top of the pop charts.
Standout tracks: Fear Inoculum, Invincible, Pneuma
Sample lyric: “We are spirit bound to this flesh, we go around one foot nailed down.” (Pneuma)
Verdict: 9/10 – damn near a masterpiece.
Don’t Call it a Comeback
Beth Hart: War in My Mind
Canadian singer-songwriter Beth Hart holds a special place in my heart, holding the (possibly dubious) honour of being the first artist I ever interviewed for Independent Australia. Of course, this was way back in the halcyon days of 2014, when the idea of a Trump/Boris/ScoMo triumvirate of idiocy was only a pipedream in the minds of conservatives and Taylor Swift battled the Frozen soundtrack for the biggest album of the year.
After building her musical chops in smoky bars and blues clubs around Los Angeles (and on Star Search), Hart got her first big break when her track L.A. Song (Out of This Town) featured in the final season of Beverly Hills, 90210. From that point on, Hart was a fixture on the modern blues scene, her distinctive voice only growing stronger with experience. At age 47 (and proud of it), Beth Hart is in her prime, and War in My Mind is a great example of a singer/songwriter at the top of their game.
Thematically, War in My Mind is all about Hart’s life — her loves, her addictions and her ongoing struggle with bipolar disorder. The death of her sister Sharon hangs heavy across the album, particularly on the moving track Sister Dear, but it's countered with moments of levity and joy, particularly on the gospel-infused Let it Grow.
With the voice of a fallen angel and a lifetime of experience to draw upon, Beth Hart is a unique talent. If you’ve never heard of her, start with War in My Mind and work your way backwards.
Standout tracks: Bad Woman Blues, Sister Dear, War in my Mind
Sample lyric: “It’s my party and I don’t dance, just want your liquor and your cheap romance.” (Bad Woman Blues)
Verdict: 8/10 – a transcendent mix of rock, blues and jazz.
Album I Expect to Suck
Post Malone: Hollywood’s Bleeding
The enduring career of Post Malone is testament to how little I know about popular music. When I reviewed his sophomore album Beerbongs & Bentleys last year, I observed:
‘Malone’s sprawl of ill-judged facial tattoos are like his songs writ large — good for a laugh once or twice, but deeply regrettable after that.’
It seems the ongoing success of the autotune rapper (20 million video views in a week for Circles) marks me as a hack and a fraud. I also predicted that Malone would probably die of a drug overdose and, as of the date of writing, I’m wrong about that, too.
Far from being dead, Post Malone has dropped a new album and some critics are calling it his big move into mainstream pop music. I would counter that the mainstream has shifted towards the stoned-out pseudo-rap that Malone peddles, because Hollywood’s Bleeding sounds like offcuts from Beerbongs & Bentleys, spiced up with the obligatory slew of guest stars.
In no particular order, guest artists on this album include Halsey, Future, Meek Mill, Lil Baby, Swae Lee, Young Thug, SZA, DaBaby, Travis Scott and Ozzy Osbourne. If that last name looks a little out of place, check out Malone’s laughable attempt at heavy metal, Take What You Want, wherein Ozzy sounds a little confused about what’s going on. The one thing I’m thankful for is a lack of collaboration with Malone’s new buddies Metallica — perhaps they’re too busy returning to the well with another symphony orchestra.
There is nothing particularly surprising on Hollywood’s Bleeding. As ever, Malone has an ear for a catchy hook and there’s no doubt that you’ll be hearing a bunch of these songs played ad nauseum across the upcoming summer, but it’s almost immediately forgettable.
Standout tracks: Sunflower
Sample lyric: “Seasons change and our love went cold, feed the flame, ‘cause we can’t let go.” (Circles)
Verdict: 3/10 – exactly as good as I expected.
Ch…check It Out!
Leeroy Stagger: Strange Path
Born in California, singer-songwriter Leeroy Stagger has covered a lot of ground in his life, both physically and emotionally. After starting his career with a bunch of different local BC bands, Stagger struck out on his own as a solo artist with the 2002 EP Six Tales of Danger. The next dozen or so years were spent touring the world with acts such as Modest Mouse, The Pixies and Evan Dando. Over the same period, Stagger developed a fondness for alcohol (among other things) that came close to ending both his career and his life.
But then, somewhere along the way, Leeroy Stagger saw the light. He also recorded 11 albums, got married, gave up drinking and had a couple of kids, all of which informed his outlook on life. Strange Path is a chronicle of that journey and is complemented by a book of the same name (also on sale now).
While Stagger is an impressive talent, Strange Path is really brought to life by the band surrounding him, including Pete Thomas on drums (hailed as the best drummer in the world by croaky weirdo Tom Waits), Tyson Maiko on bass and Paul Rigby on guitar. Also featuring on the album is Stagger’s touring band the Rebel Tone Sound, with production duties shared between no less than four producers. But somehow, it all comes together.
While Stagger’s brand of God-fearing folk rock won’t be for everyone, it’s a refreshing change from a lot of the over-produced trash that fills the airways and streaming services.
Standout tracks: The Light, Strange Attractor
Sample lyric: “Are we interconnected? We all die and we all feel pain.” (Strange Attractor)
Verdict: 7/10 – honest and authentic.
Books by John Turnbull are available on Amazon and Kindle, including supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame; action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: Europe. Damnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in paperback in the IA store HERE (free postage).
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