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The Tool Page: An Article

Publication: / Time Magazine

Date: June, 2001

Transcribed by
Dan G (

 title: Rock Is Rollin'
author: James Poniewozik and Benjamin Nugent
Tuesday, June 5, 2001 

Rock Is Rollin' 


The world has turned and left me here," sang Rivers Cuomo 
on Weezer's self-titled debut album. In the years since that 
double-platinum 1994 CD, that's exactly what happened, not 
only to Weezer but to an entire generation of rock bands that 
emerged in the early to mid-'90s. In that era, grunge, punk 
and "alternative" bands--Green Day, Smashing Pumpkins, 
Stone Temple Pilots--ruled the hearts and wallets of young 
listeners. Then, almost without exception, they dropped from 
the top of the charts, replaced by rap acts and, later, boy 
bands and girl divas. Some lingered but grew less relevant 
(Nine Inch Nails' 1999 The Fragile was a critical smash but a 
sales disappointment) or less edgy (a Foo Fighters song 
became the theme music for the NBC romantic comedy-
drama Ed, for cripes' sake).

Weezer released the ruinously unpopular Pinkerton in 1996, 
then vanished long enough for lead singer Cuomo to enroll 
at Harvard and nearly complete a bachelor's degree. So 
before the release of the band's new (and also self-titled) 
record, Cuomo flatly predicted, "I think it's going to fail in 
every sense of the word."

If rock is good at one thing, it's dying, as it did, cyclically, 
with the rise of disco and new wave. But if rock is good at two 
things, it's dying and coming back to life. And so last month 
Weezer found itself making its debut at No. 4 on the 
Billboard charts, its video for Hash Pipe--an eccentric, 
grinding single about a transvestite hooker--breaking onto 
MTV's Total Request Live. Last week Break the Cycle (Flip 
Records/Elektra), an angsty slab of dysfunction-metal from 
Staind, entered the charts at No. 1, selling a surprising 
716,000 copies in one week. Right behind it was Lateralus 
(Tool Dissectional/Volcano), from arty gloom rockers Tool, 
which came out at No. 1 a week before, displacing red-hot girl 
group Destiny's Child. (Weezer hangs in at No. 9.) Overnight--
Hello, Cleveland!--kids were ready to rock again.

Well, not overnight. Rock never really died--after the 
alternative-rock craze bottomed out in the late '90s, rap-rock 
hybrids like Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock as well as more 
straightforward rock bands like Creed have clicked with 
audiences and gone multiplatinum. And record-company 
executives, like anxious analysts anticipating a tech bubble 
burst, have been anticipating a correction in teeny-pop's long 
boom. They have devoted more resources in the past year to 
signing and developing rock acts, believing the tweens who 
flocked to pop would soon be ready for a different 
sound. "They want [their music] to evolve into something 
else as they grow older and mature," says John Davis, vice 
president of Loud Records, a division of Columbia.

Teen pop isn't dead either, but even there, a shift is under 
way. The Backstreet Boys' latest, Black and Blue, sold a 
healthy 5 million, according to SoundScan, but that didn't 
touch the 11.8 million for their 1999 Millennium or the 10.5 
million for 'N Sync's 2000 No Strings Attached. And few 
expect 'N Sync's July follow-up, Celebrity, to approach those 
heights either. More significant, long-reigning teen acts are, 
in attitude if not music, waxing more grownup, more rock 'n' 
roll. It may not be far-fetched to see the cultural roots of a 
rock revival in the moment Britney Spears ripped off her 
clothes at the MTV Video Music Awards last fall--Daddy, I'm 
not a little girl anymore!--or in the snarly, goateed look 'N 
Sync has adopted in its latest video. Bubblegum's fans are 
being led down a rockier road--and nothing rocks like rock.

But each of the rock successes of the past weeks were the 
product of years of touring and building grassroots followings. 
Tool first broke out on the Lollapalooza tour in 1993, and 
Lateralus, its first album in five years, was hotly awaited, 
though its sales were still surprising. Staind was godfathered 
by Limp Bizkit front man Fred Durst, who brought the band on 
the Family Values Tour in 1999, helped get it signed to 
Elektra (its first album, Dysfunction, sold slightly more than a 
million copies) and sang on its ballad Outside from the 
Family Values Tour 1999 CD. But even with a famous sugar 
daddy, success came after 18 months building cred on tour.

It's tempting to liken this budding revival to the coming-out 
of grunge 10 years ago, when the President was named 
Bush, the economy was contracting and anxious Gen-Xers 
with guitars rode self-deprecation and power chords to the top 
of the charts. But Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam et al.--
could be said at least loosely to have a common sound, a 
common fan base and a common thrift-shop fashion sense. 
This season's rock monarchs share good timing--"There's a 
collective exhaustion now like there was [in 1991]," says 
Jonathan Poneman, co-founder of Sub Pop Records, which 
served as grunge's midwife. But the bands have little else in 

Thus Staind's Break the Cycle is the sensitive mosher's 
album, heavy on commercial-metal power ballads a la Creed 
and emotive if inarticulate lyrics laced with therapy-speak 
(hence the title) that play like an R-rated episode of Oprah. 
("Did Daddy not love you? Or did he love you just too 
much?... Well, f___ them, and f___ her and f___ him, And 
f___ you...") Tool, for its part, specializes in punishing, 
proficient metal with complicated progressive-rock time 
signatures: Metallica by way of King Crimson. It's also firmly 
in the progressive-rock tradition of noodly instrumentals, 
bloated song lengths and bombast; the band's florid lyrics 
("Saturn ascends, the one, the ten. Ignorant to the damage 
done") and Latinate album titles like [A]Enima and Lateralus 
seem more than a little [a]effected. Weezer's stripped-down, 
raging and sardonic beach pop is Tool's pure antithesis (you 
could fit their blissful but brief new CD 2 1/2 times over onto 
Tool's nearly 80-minute monster).

If there's any musical link among the three, it's an emphasis 
on melody--at least compared with the testosterone-
drenched, jock-rock chants of Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock. And 
that may help lure pop kids. "There's a lot more stuff that 
everybody can sing along to, that girls can take home and 
listen and sing to, as well as those guys hitting their heads 
on the wall," says Elektra A&R associate Jill Katona. But if the 
three don't make a movement, they may represent the 
desire for one, and a first taste of things to come. "There is a 
nation of great up-and-coming rock bands right now, and in 
the next couple of years we're going to see something really 
exciting," says Poneman of Sub Pop. "Have we made that 
switch and turned on a dime in one week?" asks Alan Light, 
editor-in-chief of Spin. "I don't know, but I think it obviously 
shows there's a hunger for something else."

That something else could be less homogeneous than 
grunge was, considering today's cafeteria-style music 
culture. "Kids aren't necessarily identified as being a heavy-
metal kid or a punk kid or something else," says MTV2 
general manager David Cohn. "There's no better evidence of 
that than the rap-metal thing." Says Katona: "Kids today with 
the Internet and all the access they have to tons of music 
have a wider array of interests. But you know: once into rock, 
always into rock."

Does this mean a return to musical authenticity after years of 
prefab pop acts? Perhaps--at least, there's hope for bands 
that actually record their own music--but don't expect a return 
of the grunge era's rejection of rock-star pomp and artifice 
(or its embrace of flannel). From the spiked bracelets and 
studded belts of runway fashion to the recent reappearance 
of Motley Crue's Tommy Lee on the cover of Rolling Stone, 
there's a creeping nostalgia in pop culture for the old-
fashioned rock-star myth in all its showboaty, leather-
pantsed glory. "If you're going to stare at your toes and play 
guitar and look depressed, that's not going to cut it," says 
Avery Lipman, president of Republic Records. "It's important 
for artists to be stars." (Even the dirge-slinging Tool is known 
for performing, glitter rock-style, in masks and wigs.)

Ironically, this is the same sort of glammed-up rock excess 
that alt-rock reacted against. But despite Weezer's nerd-rock 
image, Cuomo was originally inspired by such over-the-top 
metal acts as the Scorpions. "I was a metal kid at heart," he 
says. "But I couldn't do all the right poses and I couldn't wear 
leather pants." Who knows? Rock stardom could even be 
more fun for Weezer the second time around than in the 
alterna-purist mid-'90s. "At the time, it was definitely not 
okay to be successful. It wasn't cool," he says. "The whole 
rock-star thing was considered to be lame. Nowadays, it's 
totally come back in style." The world has indeed turned. 
Three hundred and sixty degrees.  

Posted to t.d.n: 06/05/01 15:40:01