Review by LarryG|
2½ stars out of 4
Toad The Wet Sprocket broke up in 1998 after their last studio
record Coil got a tepid reception. Toad were like a wimpier REM but I
still liked them. They had tight, catchy songs with good guitar lines.
I recommend their greatest hits record P.S., a collection of very
likable pop rock songs, and Fear, which had the buoyant singles All I
Want, Walk On The Ocean and Is It For Me. Abulum is Toad lead singer
Glen Phillips' first solo record. Abulum is even mellower than
Phillips' Toad work. It has an "adult" sound that's pleasant but not
There's little that's awful about Albulum but not much that's
great either. The record has a few modest, enjoyable mid tempo
rockers. Men Just Leave is good breezy country rock like Toad's Nanci.
Phillips sings about guys who leave their women when they get pregnant
and have "a secret treasure: the wallet pictures in their pocket of
the kids they never see." With a Byrdsy guitar line, a breezy mood and
an empathetic lyric about a woman with bad taste in men, Professional
Victim is the most typically Toad-like song on Albulum. Drive By has
easy vocals and keyboards and is my favorite song on Albulum. The
weird but nice story is about a boy forced to drive while his father
takes a shot at the neighbor's dog and the deal the boy makes with God
to save the dog's life.
Albulum has a bunch of serious, sad songs that are pretty good.
Phillips' thin, amiable voice isn't really strong enough to carry off
Back On My Feet but the sad tale of a guy devastated after screwing up
a relationship is still striking, starting a capella and only adding
quiet, atmospheric keyboards and muffled drumming. My Own Town, about
feeling like no one's left in town and having suicidal thoughts after
a lover leaves, is subdued and moving. Darkest Hour is stark but
focused. Phillips' good, sincere vocal reminds me of Neil Finn's
better quiet songs. Train Wreck is also nice and heartfelt, though
very restrained with backing that's mostly a quiet electric piano.
Albulum basically fades away, finishing with mellow, downbeat songs
Maya and Sleep Of The Blessed.
I only actively dislike a few songs on Albulum. Careless, which
opens Albulum, sounds like Aimee Mann and Michael Penn's recent work,
using a chamberlin like Jon Brion and Patrick Warren play for a circus
type effect on Mann & Penn's music. The music and Phillips' vocal also
have the reticent, too controlled feel of some of Penn's work as
Phillips unemotionally sings about being surprised and embarrassed at
not realizing how screwed up a friend was. It Takes Time, about an
overwhelmed dad, is unappealingly dark and murky. Fred Meyers, about a
guy living in an abandoned store, is a genial, loose rocker but
Phillips' drawled vocal and the Life Is A Highway-lite boogie riff are
too cutesy for me, even if the seemingly uplifting chorus is actually
about troubled people getting their kicks by setting fires and
Albulum isn't bad. It's pleasant and easy to listen to. It's just
very low key and feels pretty inconsequential. Toad The Wet Sprocket's
work was usually pretty laid back too. What mostly separates Abulum
from Toad's records is the lack of two or three really catchy mid
tempo rock songs. Perhaps Phillips misses the rock edge of Toad
writing partner and lead guitar Todd Nichols. Or maybe Phillips is
prematurely old(he's 30) or was sad while making the record. Abulum
was produced by Phillips and Ethan Johns, son of Who/Rolling
Stones/Clapton producer Glyn Johns. Ethan's played with and/or
produced people including Emmylou Harris, Chris Stills and Ryan Adams.
Albulum sounds O.K. It's just not very exciting.