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Thursday
Feb102011

Toad the Wet Sprocket

Does anything else even need to be written? Seriously, if you got the balls to make THAT your band's name you are clearly a champion.  But I shall do my due diligence and delve into the vast and unheralded catalogue that is Toad the Wet Sprocket.  

I don't know how Toad became so easily forgotten in the music world.  In my opinion, they're right up there with Counting Crows, (early) Third Eye Blind, and The Gin Blossoms for alt. rock leaders of the '90s.  Couple together a slew of very strong, radio friendly tracks with a name impossible to ever forget and you have a recipe for super stardom.

The Gin Blossoms are actually a great band to compare them to.  Both formed in the '80s, found success in the first half of the 90s and broke up in the late '90s before they could get really HUGE.  They both had a similar sound and didn't really have any stand out personalities.  Yet the Gin Blossoms still get regular radio play and are frequently talked about when '90s rock is discussed.  Most people today have never even heard of Toad.

Not the most visually appealing guys, even by '90s standards.

The only explanation I can come up with is that they hit it big just a smidge too soon.

Toad's breakout album Fear came out in 1991, just before Nirvana's Nevermind.  They got two top 20 Billboard singles out of it but it took almost three years for Fear to go platinum.

Meanwhile, the Gin Blossoms' New Miserable Experience came out in the college radio friendly afterglow of the grunge explosion.  Initially, the album also failed to garner much attention but would eventually go 4x platinum.

Now if that was the end of it, it would make things simple.  But the tricky thing is that Toad had success after Fear.  Their next album, Dulcinea, also went platinum (and spawned a #1 hit).  But Toad broke up in early 1998 without ever really managing to fully catch fire.

There were also other factors that may have played a part.  Toad had a little bit of a softer feel to them than a lot of the other bands at the time (most of their songs are angst free).  They also didn't have any mystique.

The Gin Blossoms had a lot of turmoil in their early days that probably made them a sexy play for radio stations.  Doug Hopkins, the guitarist and main songwriter for the band, was forced out by the record label because of heavy drinking.  Just as Hey Jealousy (a song written by Hopkins) started getting traction, Hopkins committed suicide.

Now, you can't expect every band to have a story like that, but Toad really had nothing.  Counting Crows had dreads, Weezer had glasses, 3eb had the catchiest song ever.  Toad also didn't seem to be able to light up anyone's imagination or cash in on MTV in a meaningful way, back when MTV really mattered in music.

Toad ended up being what Matchbox Twenty probably would have been if Rob Thomas hadn't done Smooth with Santana.

Even so, Toad's tracks have just as much value today as they ever did, and their albums taken as a whole are very strong.  I'd urge you explore the Wet Sprocket further, for they be underrated.

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Reader Comments (10)

Perfect explanation of why Toad The Wet Sprocket's career never followed the arc of those other bands mentioned. I especially like the comparison to Matchbox 20; and the examples of strange selling points those other bands had (dreads, etc.) that Toad lacked. Even in the '90s, it seems, when every artist and band was trying to sell themselves as "just like you and me" (witness the department store clothes, SuperCuts hairdos, and complete lack of staging in the embedded Toad video), it was the bands with at least one somewhat over-the-top "gimmick" that most fully captured the public's imagination. (After all, this is still rock 'n' roll, where the "show" matters as much as the music).
Toad The Wet Sprocket is a very underrated band, and Glen Phillips is an extremely underrated songwriter. I really think that with his lyrical and melodic sensibilities, Phillips laid the groundwork for so many of today's "indie" artists, such as Death Cab For Cutie, The Frames, Iron & Wine.
Thanks for the great article.

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