Toad the Wet Sprocket – Starting Now (Album Review)

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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ALfie vera mellaAuthor posts

Born in 1971, in Metro Manila, Philippines, aLfie vera mella is a healthcare worker, singer/songwriter, and editor/writer. He was the frontman of the ’90s-peaking Philippine Alternative Rock / New Wave band Half Life Half Death, which released a full-length album and several singles on Viva Records. aLfie worked at Diwa Scholastic Press as an editor/writer of academic textbooks and supplementary magazines, focusing on Science & Technology and English Grammar & Literature. In 2003, aLfie migrated to Canada; he has since been living in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He works full-time at a healthcare institution, while serving as the associate contributing editor of Filipino Journal—a local community newspaper in Winnipeg—tackling Literature, Languages, Cultures, Lifestyles, and Music. aLfie has been a music journalist since the mid-’90s for various print magazines as well as websites. He started writing album reviews for Cryptic Rock in 2015. In 2016, aLfie published Part One (Literature & Languages and Their Cultural Significance) of his Essay Series, Can You Hear the Sound of a Falling Leaf?; in 2021, his first book of poetry, Pag-íhip sa Dáhon ng Kahápon [Blowing Leaves of Yesterday]. In his spare time, he enjoys reading books and listening to music. aLfie is a dedicated father to his now 13-year-old son, Evawwen; and a loving husband to Kathryn Mella, who herself moonlights also as a writer aside from holding a degree in Bachelor of Arts, Major in Sociology.

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