Classic Rock Corner

Digital Deep Dive: A Beginner's Guide to Tool B-Sides

If you don't know, Maynard knows his way around a costume.
If you don't know, Maynard knows his way around a costume. Photo by Jack Gorman
It's weird to think of Tool as a living, breathing organism. Yes, Houston Tool fans have seen them alive and kicking multiple times over the past decade-plus since they released 10,000 Days, including a show in 2016 that was among the best concerts of that year, but all those shows were coasting on the past with just the smallest hint that new music might one day arrive. But things can go from zero to 100 real quick, and now we live in a world where Tool has a song on the Billboard Hot 100, a new album a few weeks away, and the majority of their music is available on streaming services.

While it's nice to see fans who grew up with the band getting reacquainted with them now that their music is literally a few phone taps away, it's hard not to think about the up and coming hard rock fans out there who only know the band through what the radio might spin from time to time. In the era where albums seem less important than ever and with their catalog previously not in tune with modern music consumption, you can only imagine the ears the band has missed capturing over the past few years.

But fear not: if you're curious about this band with all the weird CG art, you've got a kid in your life that needs to have their sonic horizons expanded, or just want to think about how bands evolve over time, here are five Tool deep cuts to spin.
"Part of Me" (1992)
In 2019, Tool set a record for the longest song to ever enter the Billboard Hot 100 with the 10-minute-plus "Fear Inoculum." Length is one of those things that have come to define Tool's songwriting, but there was a time when they were a lean, mean rocking machine. "Part of Me" is the best example of their early, straight-forward material, and one of the rare songs pre-1995 you might hear them play live when they return to the road.
"Flood" (1993)
The average Tool song length increased but a few minutes on Underdow, but most of the tracks remain pretty compact. Closing track "Flood", however, serves as a bit of peek at where the band is heading in the future. Intentional or not, the song features a brooding open that finally resolves into a more traditional rock sound. It's not quite as sophisticated as the structures they would create down the line, but it's an interesting dividing line between the band they were and the band they would come to be.
"Pushit" (1996)
Even if you've never held a Tool record in your hands, odds are good you know at least two or three songs the band put out around this time. For a band that writes in unconventional time signatures, their ear for pop melody is almost unmatched among their contemporaries. But beyond "Stinkfist" and "├ćnema" are some gems of the bands more progressive sound. At around the seven-minute mark "Pushit" kicks into a new gear with a great thematic solo leading into what might be Mayard James Keenan's peak of vocal vulnerability. Songs like this are why there's so much levity elsewhere on ├ćnima.
"The Grudge" (2001)
By this time, the band was firing on all cylinders, resulting in an album that is their strongest work front to pack with only the slightest hint of fat; even the standard "track that exists to make you laugh" is tucked away at the end of the record like a Marvel post-credits scene. "The Grudge" sets the mood for the rest of the record with its expansive sound, zigging where you think the band is going to zag, jumping easily from heavy aggression to clean melody, capping it all off with Keenan's best scream. If you're ever lucky enough to hear this live, there's a snare hit in the middle of it that is one of the most beautiful noises in the history of existence.
"Right in Two" (2006)
The last proper new song the band released until this year, "Right in Two" is the least divisive of the band's least cohesive record. Fun fact: at the time many Tool fans online thought the leaked version of the record had to be a fake the band had crafted up to be purposefully "bad." But no, the leak was the actual record, and some were thrown off by the emotional vulnerability of "10,000 Days" or didn't think all 11-plus minutes of "Rosetta Stoned" were necessary. But with "Right in Two" you have the closest thing to a paint by numbers Tool track: the length, the interesting percussion, deep lyrics, the late heavy buildup to the climax. It's everything that Tool does best is in one package. 
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Cory Garcia is a Contributing Editor for the Houston Press. He once won an award for his writing, but he doesn't like to brag about it. If you're reading this sentence, odds are good it's because he wrote a concert review you don't like or he wanted to talk pro wrestling.
Contact: Cory Garcia