The Toadies: Rubberneck (Kirkland Records)

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Dallas-based alt-rockers The Toadies made a major impact with their debut full length, Rubberneck, released in 1994 and propelled to commercial and critical success thanks in part to a three-pronged attack: a great video for the song “Possum Kingdom,” plenty of radio play for it and single “Tyler,” and incessant touring. They toured for nearly two years straight, building up a large fanbase the old fashioned way, through sheer hard work.

The other factor in this pathway to success is Rubberneck itself. In many ways, The Toadies are an extremely simple band; their sound is stripped-down, unadulterated rock with a blues and metal edge, tempered with the powerful singing of leader Vaden (nee Todd) Lewis. Their simplicity of sound is tempered with attitude; almost every song on Rubberneck is snarling, wild, rabid rock that will cut you and leave you with ringing ears. Though one might hear a Pixies vibe throughout—a clear inspiration on the band that they’ve never shied away from—what they do is no mere imitation. Lead single, “Possum Dixon,” still sounds as fresh and exciting as it did the first time I heard it.

There’s more to Rubberneck than that song, though. “Mexican Hairless,” which kicks off the album, is a rabid metal instrumental that sets the tone throughout the rest of Rubberneck. There’s the jaunty “I Come From The Water,” the catchy yet angry “Happyface,” and the mosh-pit anthems “Quitter and “Velvet.” The album’s quieter, more reflective moments “Tyler” and “I Burn,” show that these heavy-hitters could do tender, thoughtful numbers as well. This deluxe reissue adds a handful of unreleased numbers, all of which fit the mould but neither add nor detract, as well as two live tracks, the debut performances of “Possum Kingdom” and “Tyler.” Curious to hear, but not particularly necessary.

The commercial and critical success Rubberneck brought them would sadly be exploited. Their second album, the superb Feeler, was rejected outright by their label—a shocking development, considering that they neither changed their sound nor altered Rubberneck’s formula; their follow-up wouldn’t come until seven years after Rubberneck’s release, the even tighter and tougher Hell Below/Stars Above. By this time, the band was tired, and would soon split up; Lewis’s follow-up band, The Burden Brothers, didn’t differ one jot from The Toadies, save for the lineup. Thankfully, the Toadies reformed a few years later, losing none of their power and their passion, releasing superb critically acclaimed albums and filling up concert halls wherever they go. Rubberneck was merely the first chapter in this band’s life, and still reigns supreme as a debut record, as vital a record as it was twenty years ago.

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