Heretics by Toadies (Kirtland Records)
Hearing Heretics for the first time while doing other things, not really paying too much attention, I wasn’t sure for a few minutes if this was a new album of original material or what the heck was going on. It certainly sounded like the band yet something was off. Did the usually rocking band from Fort Worth, Texas decide to make a fireside album, turning down the volume and energy of their usual style? Heretics is Toadies reworking their material in a more intimate way, switching distortion and speed for atmosphere and drama, and throwing in a few new tunes and a cover song. And it all works wonderfully.
Heretics opens with Belly of a Whale (dry), one of the two original songs, catchy and understated, drawing you into the gleefully dark world of Toadies. Tyler begins with glorious strummed guitar and piano accompaniment, Vaden Todd Lewis quietly crooning, familiar yet different. The players weave their sounds together, Lewis singing more intensely, building up to a sublime high singing “I will be with her tonight, hey yeah.” After the shock of hearing these songs reinterpreted, acceptance sets in and eventually enjoyment occurs. This is still Toadies and the emotion and melody are still at the forefront of the songs, even as the volume and aggression is toned down. Clark Vogeler’s keyboards are center stage for Beside You, softening Lewis’ pained vocals and a playful banjo enters the mix towards to the end adding a sense of hope to the darkness. The other original, Queen of Scars is wistful, Lewis starting out smooth then evolving into a more impassioned delivery singing “I saw you put together, I watched you fall apart, I saw what’s in our heart” the band crafting a fine country blues song. Until Lewis starts to sing you might not recognize Rattler’s Revival, the band slowing down for a creepy good time. Mark Reznicek’s drums and percussion and Doni Blair’s bass setting a wonderful pace for chiming guitars and grimy keys to snake into your mind. After shaking off the heebie jeebies from Rattler’s Revival, the biggest surprise on Heretics washes over you like a cool summer rain in the form of a soulful cover of Blondie’s Heart of Glass. Lewis and company find the uplifting pop glory in the song once the disco trappings are stripped away.
The reworking of the song that introduced the world to Toadies 21 years ago, Possum Kingdom retains the anguished vocals yet again Vogeler takes the lead with his playful performance on the keys, and you’ll be joyously singing along “Be my angel” as the band crafts a rollicking jam. The Appeal from Play.Rock.Music. is an easy choice for inclusion on Heretics, Vogeler’s spare playing accompanied by flute. Lewis shows his power as a vocalist, hushed yet emotional at the beginning then belting it out in the second half, sure to cause a few listeners to swoon and offer themselves at the foot of the stage when the song is played live.
The simple fact that the songs hold up so well once the “rock” trappings are toned down is a testament to Toadies songwriting and playing skills. As the slide guitar and harmonica on the closing song Send You to Heaven backs Lewis singing dreamily “Beatles and the Stones and the Stones and the Beatles” you’ll forget that you ever needed to hear stomp boxes and fast tempos and eagerly await when Toadies come to your town to play these songs in an intimate venue so you can see their faces as they pour their souls into the music.