Timing Is Everything

Overall, Toxicity is flat-out funny, its intense energy directed diffusely outward, rather than at some target, human or otherwise. Tankian hoots and hollers, preens like Freddie Mercury, pomps like Maynard from Tool, and, when all else fails, babbles like a little kid on a long car trip. Despite the mysterious Middle Eastern timbres, many of these tunes register as schoolyard sing-alongs. Toxicity's most charmingly stupid song (and the one that, not coincidentally, sounds like Primus) is "Bounce," a song about jumping around, wherein Tankian or someone else yells the word pogo over and over again. Toxicity's most stupidly stupid song is "Psycho," which makes fun of groupies who—wow!—do cocaine, and even it sounds like the sort of repetitive cycle kids never tire of.

Not neutral on our moving train
photo: Danny Clinch
Not neutral on our moving train

Details

System of a Down
Toxicity
Sony/American
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But that's the thing about kids—what's in their heads tends to come out of their mouths. For adults, it's harder. Especially in times when expression seems futile, how do you deal with the noise in your head? You find comfort in incomprehensible thoughts intensely expressed. Toxicity contains a song called "X." Maybe they couldn't think of a title, or maybe it's supposed to represent some sort of black hole of meaning. While Dolmayan pounds his snares like a mechanical monkey, Tankian yells, "Tell the people!" and then, "We don't need to multiply!" Then he flips it, and suddenly it's, "We don't need to nullify!" Those are the two poles all right—but good luck navigating the divide. I may know the difference between rock 'n' roll and genocide, but after years of practice, I can still scarcely conceive of the latter. Toxicity, an album whose birth-school-work-death song is called "Shimmy" and recommends dancing as a palliative, is the rock 'n' roll of the moment because it recognizes that emotion confounds rationality. It forces you to let X = X.

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