Saturday, September 18, 2010

Ten? Seriously? Ten?

I'm guessing that anyone who writes reviews of anything has a certain conundrum on their hands when trying to assign a rating to what it is they're reviewing. Whether you're rating someone's creation on a scale of one to four, one to 10, or three to 8,112, you have to have some basis for what you're doing. For some critics, it seems like a maximum rating is awarded fairly frequently, and I get that. As a longtime fan of Roger Ebert's, I know that he's going to hand out four stars if he thoroughly enjoys a movie. Other critics hardly ever give out a perfect score, as they reserve such ratings to only the very upper echelon of what they enjoy.

It occurred to me recently that I fall into the latter category. The stingy one. While I haven't really written that many reviews, I also haven't ever given out a perfect score. A lot of this has to do with timing. As a relatively young individual, I've missed the timely period in which to write about certain films and albums I would give perfect ratings to. With all of this in mind, I've decided to spend a few entries waxing poetic about some pieces of art that I would (and will) assign perfect 10.0 ratings to. After this sentence, you can read the very first perfect review I've ever written.

Aenima (1996)
Rating: 10.0

If you take a good hard look at the two albums that form the bread of the sandwich that Aenima is the meat of, you'll realize even more why Tool's second proper record is a masterpiece. Undertow is a great album, a towering achievement of musicianship and progressive thinking. Lateralus is a technical wonder, an album that offerings ass-kicking and atmosphere in equal parts. In between them, though, is Aenima a work of art that performs an impossible balancing act between the two. I mean, why sacrifice the raw energy of Undertow or the precision of Lateralus when you can have both?

To hear "Stinkfist" in 2010, you'd never know it was a song penned a decade and-a-half ago. Aside from sounding fantastic, Maynard's parallel lines about our society constantly wanting more, needing something better than perfect, are dead on. You know you've peaked as a writer when you can honestly claim to have successfully used fisting as a metaphor. And Maynard's right; just as soon as life is perfect, we all go searching for something else, something to make everything even better. And as we all know, that's when we ruin what we had in the first place.

So what does it say about Aenima that the followup to "Stinkfist" is probably even better? "Eulogy" is just all over the place, brooding and burrowing and begrudging Jesus in equal parts. But is Maynard really begrudging anything that has to do with religion, or is he calling us all out on our bullshit? Raise your hand if you've ever wanted to throw up because someone close to you decided to play the martyr simply for the attention. Exactly.

The emotional climax of "H" is a killer. The song begins calmly enough, but it's not hard to hear that something is simmering beneath the surface the whole time. And then it comes, that emotional heft, the slam dunk. "Forty Six and Two" pairs a jittery guitar part with a thick bass line, and things get suitably out of control. Never have Carl Jung references sounded so meaty.

"Hooker With A Penis" reminds us all of how silly labels really are. For anyone who's ever been involved in music, or honestly been involved with anything, this song should make a lot of sense. Can't we all just grow up and like what we like? It should be all about the art, not the delivery, not the aesthetics. But this song would fall flat if it weren't for Danny Carey's power and Maynard's raw fervor.

"Jimmy" is another classic progressive rock track, mixing proficiency with thick black drizzle in a way no other band really ever could. And "Pushit," I don't even know where I'm supposed to start. Should I mention how the song weaves in and out of different ideas, how it simultaneously makes me want to punch someone in the head and bawl my eyes out? As for the title track, that one's another complete winner. Maynard's wailing about how much he hates bullshitters, how much he hates Los Angeles, and he's doing it all to the sound of the whole world falling apart underneath his feet.

Aenima is perfect. It's the culmination of something Tool was destined to do. They've always been excellent, but only this once did they pull off the impossible and make something immortal. The random nose tracks, they don't even feel out of place here. They exist to move us forward into something more meaningful, to tease us a little bit. Because Tool does that; they've always done that. They're going to fuck with us a little bit before we get the payoff. Thing is, all of that tomfoolery usually feels a bit unnecessary. On Aenima, it feels important. And I think that about summarizes it. Aenima feels, and is, really important.

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