If I told you a mostly forgotten band from the 90s, one that was already kind of a walking punchline during their heyday in the first place, had come back after 16 years with a Kickstarter to fund a new album, your initial instinct would be derision, right? But for some reason the news of the Toad the Wet Sprocket effort, for which they’ve raised almost $200k so far, well beyond their set goal, has somehow paralyzed my cruelty instincts. I find it kind of, well, nice. It’s just really nice that they’re doing that. Maybe it’s because that’s probably the best way to describe the band’s music, just, sort of, nice music, made by, and for, nice people. It kind of makes me feel like I’m losing my edge. To test whether or not I had, I asked my Voice colleague David Thorpe to hash out all of these weird emotions here. I had sort of assumed he’d be willing to take the role of the heel in this back and forth, since jokes about eminently mockable bands is right in his wheelhouse, but it turns out he shared my good-tidings for the oft-derided band.
David, when I noticed a show listing yesterday, (for a band TtWS are often confused with): “Vaden Todd Lewis (of the Toadies) perf Toadies & Burden Brothers tunes,” I thought that was one of the saddest things I’ve seen in a long time. That detail there, that they have to cram into the headline that, yes, yes, he’s playing Toadies songs, it’s OK, you can come hear “Possum Kingdom,” is kind of heartbreaking, right? Why is it different for Toad the Wet Sprocket, do you think? Or is it?
DT: I’m sure if Toad the Wet Sprocket had just been advertising a show by Todd Wetsprocket (of Toad the Wet Sprocket) (Featuring the songs of Toad the Wet Sprocket), we wouldn’t be talking about a 360%-funded Kickstarter, we’d be talking a slightly underfunded county fair. The big difference here is that this is the Toad boys are back in full force. We’re talking original lineup, man. Actually, I have no idea whether this is the original lineup, but they could tell me it was and I’d believe them, because who gives a shit?
But yes, my cockles are a little warmed by the big crowdfunding success of this Toad record, probably because I only remember them for their vaguely pleasant music and their ridiculous name. (Trivia: most people think Toad the Wet Sprocket is a terrible name, but it’s actually a Monty Python reference, making it a nerdy and terrible name.) Maybe I’m just pleasantly shocked to see their name pop up again, since I figured they died along with all the other ’90s AOR power-pop bands in the Dishwallocaust.
LO: Haha, OK, I knew I could rely on you to belittle these hardworking and beloved, harmless musicians. What’s strange to me is that we haven’t seen an uptick in Toad the Wet Sprocket nostalgia among twenty-somethings, who are desperate for any excuse to latch their personal brands onto the most misremembered decade since people my age did the exact same thing with the ’80s. The Gin Blossoms, strangely, have turned up more than a few times as references for a bunch of the young bands I’ve covered lately, and there really isn’t that much of a musical, or aesthetic gap between those two titans of ’90s mixtape-wave. TtWS weren’t much of a lateral move from R.E.M. at the time either, as I recall. Is it specifically because of the name? Is the name that bad that it can reverberate onward through the decades, butterfly-effect like? Like if you named your son Blake, say. I wonder how the course of human history would’ve been different if four guys had been slightly less dorky 25 years ago.
As for the actual music, I think it, strangely, still holds up. Think about “Something’s Always Wrong.” (By the way, I think it’s a poignant bit of irony that they’re lampooning the idea of a band as an infomercial product there, when that’s essentially what the Kickstarter experience is now, right? By the way part 2, kind of dying at the bare-footed bass player. That is probably the most 90s thing I’ve ever seen, and I saw Funkdoobiest open for Rage Against the Machine and Cypress Hill at an amusement park).
That’s just one of a slew of singles from them that were pretty great. “Come Back Down”, “Walk On the Ocean”, “Fall Down.” I even thought “Coil”, their last, 1997 album, was really listenable in a sort of melancholy closing-time-for-the-decade sort of way.
Did you listen to the new single?
DT: Wait a minute, I see what this is all about: you’re a huge Toad the Wet Sprocket fan. I came into this thing thinking we were just two guys talking about a new Toad record, but it turns out you’ve been holding a torch for these dudes for decades and I’m actually going toe-to-toe with the biggest Toad fan on the East Coast. Not much of a lateral move from REM? Jesus. More evidence against you: you didn’t mention “All I Want,” their biggest and best song, which is completely a huge-fan thing to do. “Yeah, I love The La’s, not all of their songs are like ‘There She Goes.'”
You’re outed, Toadliker. Toadpologist. Sprocket-fondly-regarder.
But I don’t necessarily disagree with you. Toad were an OK band, in that ’90s OK band kind of way. They had more hits than the Gin Blossoms, albeit individually weaker ones. The new single sounds like something I’d hear exactly one time in the New Music Mix of my local adult alternative station, but it doesn’t quite have the magic of their classics. It could be due to the shifting context: the only music that sounds like “New Constellation” anymore is Christian rock, and this track doesn’t do enough to declare its Satanic affiliation to escape that vibe.
LO: I’m not! I swear. I’m just trying to dig deep and figure out where exactly my suddenly remembered fondness for this merely-affable group of fellows comes from. Also, I might not understand what lateral move actually means. Don’t worry, we’re still just two super normal dudes having a regular-ass conversation about inoffensive, potentially Christian, mandolin ballads.
The Christian thing brings up a good point though. Were they even Christian? I’m not going to look that up because I haven’t really figured out how much we’re getting paid for this whole thing yet–like, splitting one fee in half or what?–but I’ve been reading the comments on the “Somethings Always Wrong” video, and they are making my heart hurt and making me laugh my ass off in such a weirdly balanced, oppositional way right now, and it’s making me think there is definitely something sort of Jesus-y going on here that maybe I didn’t pick up on when I was a kid listening to this stuff. You know how you go back and watch a beloved old movie or TV show as an adult and realize how often they were talking about fucking and you had no idea? It’s possible Toad were singing for the lord all along. Wait, “Walk on the ocean, step on the stones. Flesh becomes water, wood becomes bone.” OK, I see it now. Feel like I just realized Jack Tripper was acting gay the whole time.
DT: I’m also not going to bother looking up whether they were Christian, because I assumed you were the one getting paid for this, but always remember the Dave Thorpe Law of Christian Rock:
If you cannot immediately tell that something is not Christian rock, it is Christian rock.
Sure, you’ll get some false positives in there–Snow Patrol, The Lumineers, etc–but it’ll quickly sort out grey-area cases like Collective Soul and Chevelle. And anyway, why the hell would you be listening to something if you couldn’t instantly tell it wasn’t Christian?
LO: Love Chevelle and Underoath, by the way. Man, growing up Catholic really fucked me up. But my point was, the prevalence of good-tidings on this comment thread would’ve been a tip-off anyway. I’m sure you know how rare it is to go more than four posts deep on any YouTube thread, no matter what it’s about, before it gets hateful and racist. These are all just so, so sincere and innocuous.
A couple of my favorites:
“Talk about nostalgia. Thank you for uploading this. Its amazing how music can bring back so many memories you almost forgot you had (For some reason this reminds me of weekends watching saved by the bell). Shout out to those who grew up in the ’90s, it all goes by too fast.”
It really does :/
“man i am so glad that i grew up in and around this era, i cant wait for my kids to ask me what music was like in the day? and then recommend this tune for them”
They won’t, but it’s really sweet that he thinks that.
“damn why do all the best memories always have to be about the past? lol”
I don’t know my man. I don’t know.
“So glad I spent my childhood in the 90s…no emo pussys, gangsta hip/crap scene, or collapsing economy. Huge influence on my musical path.”
OK, so that’s a little negative. Feel like this particular gentleman sort of misread the ’90s, if you don’t mind my saying. Maybe it’s just because it reminds me of a time when I wasn’t a spiteful, hate-riddled cretin. I know the 90s were plenty ironic, but there was a paradoxical sincerity to the irony then.
DT: That’s an amazing crop of comments. I feel like I learned something from each and every one of them:
1. People who grew up in the ’90s already feel like miserable old farts. “It goes by too fast”? You’re 31, dude. Don’t hop on that nostalgia ice floe just yet.
2. There’s a certain segment of the population who, when asked by their children about the music of the ’90s, will get all misty and reminisce about, of all fucking things, Toad the Wet Sprocket.
3. There are people in this world who are currently scratching their heads in wonderment because they can’t figure out why all their best memories are in the past. Maybe they haven’t figured out that all memories are about the past, and this is the primary difference between memories and premonitions.
4. The people who listened to Toad in their heyday were completely unaware that gangsta rap existed
LO: All memories are in the past, until they get a Kickstarter funded. That’s a lesson as old as time. As old as Kickstarter anyway.
DT: I feel like we both grew a little and learned a lot of lessons here, learned a little about Toad, sorted out our feelings and made sense of our inscrutable ’90s nostalgia*. Join us, won’t you all, in offering our sincere congratulations for Toad’s continuing success.
* Ed. note: This lesson is your payment. Sorry I didn’t make it clear from the outset: you’re not getting paid money for this.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 19, 2013