The Alternative Rock band known as Toad the Wet Sprocket began their journey in 1986, in Santa Barbara, California. Putting in the work, it took three studio albums before they finally made a commercial breakthrough, via 1991’s Fear, whose chart-topping singles “All I Want” and “Walk on the Ocean” catapulted the quartet to popularity. Their most successful work was followed by two records more, 1994’s Dulcinea and 1997’s Coil, and another string of successful singles such as “Something’s Always Wrong,” “Fall Down,” “Fly from Heaven,” “Come Down,” and “Crazy Life,” which was included in the soundtrack of the 1995 film Empire Records.
A great story of how good songwriting and hard work pays off, despite the success, Toad the Wet Sprocket disbanded in 1998, only to reconvene formally in 2009, resulting in a new proper album. It would take eight years of touring and small-scale shows before the band was able to muster enough materials to record for the long-overdue follow-up to 2013’s New Constellation. Coincidentally, another eight years have rolled until Toad the Wet Sprocket has entered the studio again to record the long-overdue next studio album. The result is Starting Now, released on August 27, 2021, via the band’s independent label Abe’s Records.
Starting Now is a collection of 10 songs that all carry the trademark sound of Toad the Wet Sprocket–characterized by folky, acoustic-oriented guitar playing and Vocalist/Guitarist Glen Phillips’ introspective songwriting and pained voice. It opens with the groove and punch of the angular midtempo “Game Day.” This is then followed by the icy pluckings of the Neo-acoustic ballad “Transient Whales,” which will remind the initiated of Toad the Wet Sprocket’s 1991 song “Stories I Tell.” The soulful track “The Best of Me” then ensues, featuring guest vocals by Michael McDonald (of Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan). The plucked-guitar lines of the album’s title-track then flows next seamlessly.
Moving forward, with its graceful fiddle melody, “Lantern” is a breath of prairie air, relaxing and setting you in a retrospective mood. “Hold On” then picks up the pace for a bit, exuding faint echoes of Counting Crows’ classic single “Mr. Jones.” A further tug on the horse’s saddle comes next as “Truth” gallops with its Country Folk sensibilities. Another calming track follows in the form of “Slowing Down,” which further displays Phillips’ familiar lyrical maturity.
The penultimate song, “Dual Citizen” is a standout, with its monotonal chord progression and bluesy tendencies. Finally, Toad the Wet Sprocket finishes up Starting Now with “Fever”–a low-key, slow burner, reminiscent of some of Phillips’ solo endeavors–such as “Duck and Cover,” “Courage,” and “Simple.”
In spite of undergoing a couple of hibernation periods, Toad the Wet Sprocket–currently consisting of founders Phillips, Todd Nichols (lead guitar, backing vocals, mandolin), and Dean Dining (bass, backing vocals, keyboards, rhythm guitar) and new member Josh Daubin (drums, percussion, backing vocals)–is able to bounce back to relevance and vitality. With Starting Now, they have indeed nowhere else to go but forward and up…again. That is why Cryptic Rock gives their new album 4 out of 5 stars.
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