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The Tool Page: An Article

Publication: The Riverfront Times

Date: January, 2001

Transcribed by
Ryan Anderson (andersor@psychiatry.wustl.edu)


  page: 
 title: Marketing Tool
author: Paul Friswold

It's all semantics: A single CD and a four-track video compilation now 
constitutes a boxed set. When will it end?

The release of a Tool boxed set caused no small amount of outrage 
around the RFT music offices. Tool has a grand total of three albums 
to their credit, and here they are getting a boxed set? Sonic Youth 
has 14 albums, and they don't have a boxed set; the Melvins have 
extruded 13 albums, and they, too, are boxed-set-deficient. The Red 
Hot Chili Peppers don't have a boxed set, and they have an MTV Video 
Vanguard Award, for Carson Daly's sake! The industry hasn't blundered 
so egregiously since releasing that Best of Silverchair, Vol. I 
travesty (if you just scratched your head and grunted quizzically, 
well, that was our reaction, too). In true High Fidelity spirit, lists 
of the Top Five Bands That Deserve Boxed Sets More Than Tool were 
being smugly and self-righteously compiled when the door to the Radar 
Station bunker opened with the pneumatic hiss of escaping gas, 
silencing our bluster. The gnarled and wizened claw of the Great Old 
One beckened from the shadows of Ground Zero, and we averted our eyes, 
lest they make contact with the cold black orbs that rest in the 
Anointed One's face: "Somebody listen to the friggin' thing first," he 
pronounced. "Then you can gripe about it. In descending order: Mekons, 
Run-D.M.C., Lee Hazlewood, Bay City Rollers, Maurice Chevalier." An 
empire rose and fell in the pause. "Friswold. And get me some more Pop 
Rocks while you're out."

So, having purchased, listened to, watched, absorbed, ruminated upon, 
eaten and expelled Tool's Salival for the better part of two weeks, it 
is with great regret that your humble musical scrible must resort to 
the last words of Aleister Crowley by way of assessment: "I am 
perplexed."

Perplexed that Salival is called a boxed set when it consists of a 
nine-track CD and a videocassette containing but four videos.

Perplexed that a lavishly illustrated 50-plus-page booklet accompanies 
said CD and video, and yet the whole shebang costs a mere $23.41 at 
Vintage Vinyl ("Where the elite meet to buy musical treats").

Perplexed that a band that has not released an album in almost five 
years would choose this boxed set/not a boxed set hybrid as their 
vehicle to re-enter the public view.

Perplexed that 105.7 The Point has been forcing "Maynard's Dick" down 
our collective throat when "No Quarter" (or any of the live cuts, for 
that matter) is so much better.

Undoubtedly these issues concern you also, or you would not have read 
this far. Let us apply the Stri-dex of critical analysis and clear up 
this complexion of perplexion.

Point No. 1: Traditionally, boxed sets are massive chunks of music 
that function as triple-X porn for music nerds. They require multiple 
CDs to contain all the b-sides, outtakes, covers, rare mixes, false 
starts and studio shenanigans that the artist has been squirreling 
away for years. One of those discs had better be live, because that's 
the money shot for collectors. These prized CDs are accompanied by 
thick booklets of pictures, anecdotes, discographies, band history, 
and testimonials from famous fans. Ideally there should be at least 
one essay written about the artist by David Fricke, Danny Sugarman or 
Clive Davis.

Salival is missing more than a few of those elements. Its lone CD 
features five live songs, three unreleased studio cuts (including a 
Led Zeppelin cover and a Peach cover) and the throwaway "Maynard's 
Dick." The videotape features the entire Tool video library: "Sober," 
"Prison Sex," "Stinkfist" and "Aenima." Total listening/viewing time 
is about an hour and 40 minutes. Not quite the staggering sensory 
overload of the Stooges' Funhouse Sessions or Metallica's Live Shit: 
Binge and Purge, but, then, Salival doesn't have any of the song 
overlap of either of those juggernauts. But how could it? It only has 
nine songs! Those nine songs range in quality from mediocre 
("Maynard's Dick") to great ("You Lied") but there just aren't enough 
of them. And a four-song video is just plain skimpy. Again, the 
quality of the videos is not in question: Tool makes transcendent 
videos. But Tool also has a visually powerful live show -- why not put 
some live stuff we haven't see before on the video? Boxed sets are 
about quality and quantity; you should get a lot of great, weird shit, 
and you should pay through the nose for it. This isn't a boxed set, 
it's a glorified LP.

This leads to point No. 2. Salival only costs slightly more than a 
brand-new CD. Huh? The record industry works on a simple principle: 
They won't release it if they don't think they're going to make their 
money back and then some. A brand-new copy of Aenima, Tool's last 
album, costs around 15 bucks. For about 8 bucks more, Salival gives 
you the CD, a video, a full-color hardbound CD book and a fancy, 
too-big-for-your-shelf slipcase to hold it all. How can Tool's record 
company afford all that extra stuff without jacking the price way up? 
Salival, unlike more traditional boxed sets, is accessible to both 
hardcore Tool fans and the casual listener. The hardcore fan must buy 
it, no matter what the cost; he's hardcore. The casual listener can 
afford to pick it up without having to take on a second mortgage. This 
broader market appeal means that Tool's record company (Zoo/Volcano 
Entertainment) will conceivably sell more copies and thus make its nut 
back. Unless record companies are already gouging on the price of CDs 
... no, that's unthinkable! Those hardworking industry suits are just 
breaking even, if that. Anyway, Salival was listed as Vintage Vinyl's 
No. 1 seller for the week ending Jan. 13. Ka-ching! When was the last 
time you saw a boxed set as a top seller? Again, it ain't no boxed 
set, it's a glorified LP.

These "is it a boxed set/is it not a boxed set" questions hint at the 
"what" of Salival, but the more confusing aspect is the "why" of 
Salival. Why would a band that has not released an album since 1996 
unleash this strange beast now? 

Because this strangely formatted maxi-album/mini-boxed set epitomizes 
the trouble with marketing Tool and leads us to point No. 3.

Think about it: Where exactly does Tool fit in the musical world? The 
band first appeared in the post-grunge alternative-rock signing frenzy 
of the Lollapalooza days, but they're not really grungy or 
alternative. They've played Ozzfest, but they aren't really heavy 
metal or nu metal. They release new albums only slightly more 
frequently than Guns n' Roses, yet they maintain a loyal following. 
They espouse drug use for psychic exploration, Enochian magic, 
spiritual growth and the pursuit of arcane and esoteric knowledge. Are 
they a rock band, an art project or a secret magical society? In 
today's post-Columbine climate, Tool is a band that must frustrate the 
bejesus out of PR people. They're a good band, they make good albums, 
but do you really want the kind of media attention their music and 
ideas will eventually garner? Not with John Ashcroft as attorney 
general, you don't.

So you release an album that is accessible to both Tool's core 
audience and any potential new audience without taking any unnecessary 
risks. Release some old songs in a new live format, throw in some 
images that have already been broadcast and package the whole thing in 
a beautiful box. And on the front of that box, put a big sticker that 
reminds both old and new fans that the fourth Tool album will be out 
on April 17.

The results are mixed. Those core fans get some pretty packaging, some 
variations of familiar songs, some videos they taped off MTV four 
years ago, a whetted appetite for the long-awaited new album and the 
feeling that they didn't quite get ripped off but didn't quite get 
what they wanted. New fans get a easily digested sample of what to 
expect from Tool (good music, great art and some unusual ideas) before 
their opinion can be shaped by the scandal-driven and reactionary 
mainstream media, but they don't get the full-on weirdness of Tool's 
live spectacle or philosophy. And so Salival ends up feeling more like 
a triumph of marketing and packaging than anything else.

As for point No. 4, that's easy: The Point sucks, and the staff can't 
tell musical shit from shinola, even when they have to dig through the 
ass end of the last track on an album to find it.


[Transcriber's Note: Astonishingly - No, I didn't make this article 
up. - This long-winded, irrelevant chunk of crap that spent the better 
part of 3 large, newspaper-size pages inanely debating whether Salival 
fits the stereotypical definition of a boxed set or not, actually made 
it to published print of a well-known weekly newspaper here in St. 
Louis. As for author Paul Fris(Gris)wold, he proudly hails from a team 
of local monkeys that I'm ashamed to say represent our population of 
"music critics" for all the newspapers around the city. Qualifications 
for getting this job must be based on how many staff editors you can 
blow, because it sure the hell is not based even remotely on depth of 
musical knowledge. And the strangest thing is, they seem to have this 
odd, many-years-old, longstanding vendetta against Tool. Any other 
alterna-clone band releases a CD, no matter how stagnant or crappy, = 
good, or at least neutral rating. Tool plays a show or releases a CD, 
= automatically labeled as too arty, too over-the-head for a rock 
audience, - bad rating. Ah, fuck art, integrity, & pushing creative 
boundaries. We don't need those things in music anyway...]         

Posted to t.d.n: 02/09/01 12:01:46