In the fickle "What have you done for me lately?" world of popular music, a hit single and platinum record don't mean very much six years later.
That's the situation facing the Toadies, who in 1995 enjoyed a rock-radio hit with "Possum Kingdom," the creepy tale of psychopathic seduction that propelled the Texas rock quartet's debut LP, Rubberneck (1994), to platinum status.
Late last month the Toadies finally released their second album, Hell Below/Stars Above, and crossed their fingers, hoping not everyone had forgotten about them. The band will kick off a U.S. tour on Friday (April 13) behind the record, whose lengthy delay is owed to a combination of common pitfalls, singer/guitarist Todd Lewis said.
"The label (Interscope) went through a restructuring that didn't kill us but didn't really help us, either. We separated with management. We got a new guitar player. We tried a session, but it didn't seem like it was working so we aborted it about halfway through and started over again," he said in a hurried voice that implied frustration with both the situation and with having to relate the story yet again.
Bassist Lisa Umbarger, who founded the group with Lewis in 1989, said the band's troubles are reflected in the new 12-song disc.
Listen to "Motivational," for example, and you'll hear a band trying to keep its head up in the face of serious setbacks: "To get the leg up/ You must put your foot down/ You roll your sleeve up/ You put your back into it/ You get your head around it."
But the delay affected more than just the lyrics. "The title track no way that song would've been recorded if we'd gone in the studio three years ago. It was too risky," Umbarger said of the driving, vocally layered Poster Children-like charge that evolves into a bluesy, tambourine-shaking gospel number with Elliott Smith on piano. "That one is just so different from anything we've done before."
Some of the material on Hell Below/Stars Above, however, does carry on in the spirit of the music and themes explored on Rubberneck. "Jigsaw Girl" is a dark, romantic ode to a former lover the narrator has chopped to pieces.
"Give me your hand/ And I will hold it forever/ On my nightstand/ In a box with your love letters," Lewis croons. "I love you dear/ And I know we will not be parted/ I'll keep you near/ Scattered around my apartment."
"I think it's fun to pull off a love song that's really f---in' twisted," Lewis said. "It's funny to hear a love song about something really dark and sick that still sounds nice and pretty."
"Push the Hand" a fuzzy blues number that visitors to the band's Web site picked to be the album's first single shows that not all Lewis' songs are descendants of Edgar Allen Poe's "Annabel Lee."
"It's about a relationship that gets fouled up because of sex," he said, "and about seeing how your friendship kinda goes away because you f---ed it up by, um ... f---ing."
Program director Dave Douglas of Boston's WAAF-FM said listeners have been responding well to the new single.
"We had the Toadies play our annual indoor beach party with Disturbed, and I was standing right in front of the stage when the Toadies did that song and was really thrilled to see lots of people singing along," Douglas said. "The reaction here has been really good."
The station was one of the first to play "Possum Kingdom," he said, and, like a lot of stations, WAAF still spins it from time to time.
Still, Lewis said trying to convince people the Toadies haven't croaked will be challenging.
"It's a given that people have forgotten about us by now," he said. "I don't worry about it that's just how it goes."
And since Rubberneck had been out for more than a year before "Possum Kingdom" really took off, the Toadies shouldn't worry if "Push the Hand" doesn't shoot up the charts right away, right?
"That's how I feel about it, but I don't know if that's how the label feels about it," Lewis said, laughing.
Toadies tour dates, according to their publicist:
- 4/13 - Lafayette, LA @ Grant Street Dance Hall
- 4/14 - Fort Worth, TX @ Ridglea Theatre
- 4/17 - Dallas, TX @ Gypsy Tea Room
- 4/18 - Tempe, AZ @ Bash on Ash
- 4/19 - San Diego, CA @ 'Canes Bar & Grill
- 4/20 - Long Beach, CA @ Lava Lounge
- 4/21 - West Hollywood, CA @ Troubadour
- 4/22 - San Francisco, CA @ Slim's
- 4/23 - Reno, NV @ Peppermill Hotel
- 4/25 - Portland, OR @ Crystal Ballroom
- 4/26 - Seattle, WA @ Crocodile Cafe
- 4/27 - Boise, ID @ Big Easy
- 4/28 - Salt Lake City, UT @ DV8
- 4/29 - Englewood, CO @ Gothic Theatre
- 4/30 - Pittsburg, KS @ Foxtown City Limits
- 5/2 - Milwaukee, WI @ Rave
- 5/3 - Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue
- 5/4 - Chicago, IL @ Double Door
- 5/5 - Detroit, MI @ Majestic Theatre
- 5/7 - Cleveland, OH @ Odeon
- 5/8 - Pittsburgh, PA @ Banana Joe's
- 5/9 - New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
- 5/10 - Boston, MA @ Paradise
- 5/11 - Philadelphia, PA @ Trocadero
- 5/12 - Washington, DC @ Black Cat
- 5/15 - Carrboro, NC @ Cat's Cradle
- 5/16 - Myrtle Beach, SC @ House of Blues
- 5/17 - Columbia, SC @ Uncle Doctor's
- 5/18 - Atlanta, GA @ Cotton Club
- 5/19 - Nashville, TN @ 328 Performance Hall
- 5/20 - Maryland Heights, MO @ Riverport Amphitheatre
- 5/21 - Fort Wayne, IN @ Piere's
- 5/22 - Louisville, KY @ Jillian's
- 5/23 - Cincinnati, OH @ Bogart's
- 5/25 - Hampton, VA @ Langley Raceway
- 5/27 - Lake Buena Vista, FL @ House of Blues