Tool – Undertow

Here’s where I (among many, probably) got into Tool. This one was pretty much unavoidable, and I happily joined in. What a record!

Intolerance is just a monster of a track, roiling and muscular and quintessentially Tool. Maynard says he doesn’t want to be hostile, but many other tracks here seem to contradict that… Anyway, I just love this song. Perfect album opener.

Prison Sex was a single, and it’s quite the song, lyrically, given that it’s about child abuse. The song and the video met with controversy, but Maybard was unapologeticly “quite clear about his antipathy towards his stepfather during early interviews about the song,” saying “This song is about recognizing, identifying, the cycle of abuse within yourself. That’s the first step of the process: realization; identifying. The next step is to work through it. But this song is about the first step in the process, which is recognizing.” Whew, it’s a heavy song to deal with. But, being Tool, it’s tuneful and heavy and musically excellent.

Sober, of course, is the one everybody knows. Just a huge, slinky, brilliant track.

Bottom was another seller for me, in getting into this album. What an aggressive monster of a track! But even better (for me), it has Henry Rollins on it, in the middle section! “…but my soul must be iron, ‘cos my fear is naked. I’m naked and fearless. And my fear is NAKED!” Yeah! This track will be on every Hits Of Tool disc I ever make.

Crawl Away takes half a minute to build up to the riff that ulitmately rolls in, another template Tool crusher. The chourus here is the best, the combination of that groovy heavy metal music and lyrics working perfectly. When it takes off at 300 mph towards then end, you’re already well under its power.

Swamp Song is another perfect Tool riff, fuzzed out and slowed down to make it even creepier and powerful. Maynard is no less angry, here, either. When it gets to the chorus, the swirling music is throwing punches and you’re swaying with it… Yes!

The title track, Undertow, brings on the comlicated riff and time signature before settling into that sweet metal groove that is already cemented as their signature sound. Maynard’s still ranting, and it’s the shifting (and punishing) riffs and beats here that make it a stellar track. The high speed ending, which abruptly stops as though you’ve hit a wall, is a killer.

4° beings with a vaguely Eastern sounding intro riff, but it isn’t long before it’s another big, writhing Tool song. This one’s a call to self-discovery and realization (I can dig it) while that guitar holds your ear the whole time…

Flood is a giant 4 minute instrumental workout and build-up before it even shifts into becoming a song and Maynard starts singing. What a great tune! You get all settled in and then it morphs! Typical Tool. It pounds to an end and, just like that, this amazing Tool record is done.

But wait.

Buried way down on track 69 (all the others are empty tracks), another hidden track, called Disgustipated. Ah, the 90s. A sparsely-tapped bongo drum and farm animal noises. Here we go again with Tool’s goofy sense of humour. One starts to think that, after the heaviness of the content of their songs, levity like this is needed. Maynard is in preacher mode, railing against the carrot holocaust. Haha awesome. And then the drums go tribal while voices “This is necessary… life feeds on life…” over and over… After about six and a half minutes, all you hear is crickets. For more than seven minutes. And then Maynard’s voice is back, a hushed narrative in the aftermath…

In Sum:

Though it’s hard to choose, this is probably my favourite Tool record. It’s perfect. Everything works, nothing is wasted, the sound is stellar, and I’ve never tired of it even after the millions of times I’ve played it.


* Quotations from Wiki. 


Posted on December 14, 2016, in posts by aaron and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. What I liked about Disgutstipated was the TV Evangelist in the song. Was that someone from the band or did they get somebody in for that?


    • Huh, I always assumed that was Maynard’s voice, but the internets suggest otherwise (I don’t know if this is true either):

      The strange story told at the very end of this song was left on lead singer Maynard James Keenan’s answering machine by his landlord. The credits on the album read: “phone message: bill the landlord.”

      The last song on Undertow, this comes up as track 69 on American copies of the CD – tracks 10-68 are just a second or two of nothing. Here’s the breakdown of the song:
      Percussion/Animal sounds – 0:00 – 1:10
      Preacher – 1:11 – 2:32
      Disgustipated – 2:33 – 6:45
      Crickets – 6:46 – 13:50
      Phone message – 13:51 – 15:47

      The term “Disgustipated” was first coined in a Popeye comic book in the 1930’s and was used to express a combined feeling of disgust and exasperation with a situation involving Olive Oyl. Since the situation was obviously resolved by Popeye eating spinach, we can conclude that this song was intended to promote vegetarianism. Or, it could just be a cool song with a funny title.


  2. Nice write up. I haven’t listened to this one in a long time and not a favourite, but can’t really disagree with too much here.


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