Analysis & Comment

Tool released an album after more than 13 years — Alan Cross explains why it took so long

If you’re not a fan of Tool, you’re excused from reading this week’s column. With all due respect, you just won’t understand how momentous the events of the last couple of days have been. If, however, you have been waiting (im)patiently for some mythical day when the group would finally release a new studio album, you’re delirious with joy. Not only is the record here but it’s good. Very, very good.

We Tool fans have been suffering for a long, long time. The last album, 10,000 Days, appeared on May 2, 2006. When Fear Inoculum dropped at midnight this past Friday, it ended a gap of 13 years, 3 months, and 29 days between albums.

That’s a long time. Let’s put it into perspective:

  • George W. Bush was still president. Barack Obama would serve two full terms before Trump was elected.
  • There was no such thing as an iPhone. Steve Jobs wouldn’t unveil the new device for another eight months.
  • MySpace was still bigger than Facebook.
  • Netflix was still in the business of renting CDs by mail.
  • Spotify wouldn’t go live for another couple of years.
  • Story continues below

But here’s my favourite metric. In the space between Tool albums, the New Horizons spacecraft was launched, crossed the Solar System, encountered Pluto, and is now well into the Kuiper Belt, some 5 billion miles away from Earth.

Why did it take so long? What was the holdup? A litany of legal problems, countersuits, clashing schedules, and an impossibly high creative bar. Let’s deconstruct things.

Few bands have had such consistently bad relations with their record companies. Signing first to Zoo Entertainment in late 1992, the label ran into financial ruin in 1995 and was purchased by BMG, then one of the world’s major labels. BMG then sold Zoo’s assets to Sony, another of the majors, in 1996, as part of a newly created entity called Volcano Entertainment. This brings us to the second album, Ænima.

Zoo/Volcano was really, really slow with the royalty cheques, something that annoyed Tool greatly. The band then realized that Zoo/Volcano forgot — forgot! — to pick up the option on their contract. Tool understandably felt it was in their best interest to move on. That’s when Zoo/Volcano sued for breach of contract. Tool had no choice but to countersue for contractual negligence.

Meanwhile, Volcano had changed its name to Freeword and for a time was the umbrella company for all Volcano and Zoo assets. But just to make things fun, the company then changed its name to Zoo Entertainment and then just plain Zoo.

The group was paralyzed. Whenever Tool convened, it was to talk to lawyers and accountants about this legal and financial mess. Zoo, meanwhile, had a plan to sell everything to another label called Zomba. That’s exactly what happened in the spring of 1998. Zoo was bought by Zomba whereupon Zoo’s name was changed to … Volcano.

Confused? Imagine being in Tool.

To avoid any further unpleasantness, Volcano (correctly known as Volcano 2) structured a deal with Tool whereby they had its own sub-label (also known as a “vanity label”) that was named Dissectional. Because this was a joint venture, Tool actually had a sale in how things worked — in theory, anyway.

But just as this was getting sorted, singer Maynard James Keenan formed a new band called A Perfect Circle which was contracted to a completely different label. That created … complications, delaying the third Tool record, Lateralus, until the spring of 2001, a gap of five years from Ænima. Then there was a collective firing of the band’s manager which also generated suits and countersuits.

In 2002, Zomba was bought by BMG, bringing Tool into that fold again. Three-and-a-half years passed before a fourth album, 10,000 Days, was released on May 2, 2006. Tours followed in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009. Keenan had yet another band called Puscifer, which ate up more time. In addition to that, he had retreated to Arizona to set up a vineyard.

More time passed. Years.

Fans got a glimmer of hope in April 2010 when it was rumoured that the group was working on the instrumental tracks for a new album. Nothing. Same thing in December 2012 when we were told that a new album was half completed. Nope. Then came an Instagram post promising a new album in 2013. They revised that to 2014. More leaks about new music showed up in 2014. And in 2015. And throughout 2016. And 2017. And 2018. Still nothing.

What was going on? You guessed it: more legal troubles. And they were bad. Tool was engaged in a multi-level, multi-dimensional series of legal actions that took forever to unwind.

In 2007, a year after the release of 10,000 Days, a friend of guitarist Adam Jones named Cam De Leon claimed that he’d created some artwork for Tool and wanted some credit. The insurance company that Tool believed would defend them against lawsuits like this turned around and sued Tool, citing a series of technicalities that prevented them from dealing with De Leon’s action. This forced Tool to countersue the insurance company.

The case dragged on for eight years. In the interim, Tool could not release any new music. All they could do was tour — and tour they did because the legal bills escalated into the millions. It was the only way they could make money.

But then, a breakthrough. In March 2015, a judge ruled that the insurance company had no case, freeing Tool to release new music.

A new tour followed in early 2016. Still no new music. When I asked Keenan about the status of Tool, he dodged the issue, saying that he comes in with the vocals and lyrics after everyone else has finished the music. “Until they finish that,” he told me, “all I can do is wait.”

Meanwhile, there were more record label shenanigans. The parent company of Tool’s Dissectional was Zomba. Zomba was sold to 2002 to BMG. But then in 2008, BMG was bought by Sony, creating a new major label called Sony-BMG. But then there was an un-merging and the label was renamed Sony Music Entertainment. The upshot of all that was that Dissectional is once again under the umbrella of Sony.

This, however, has proven to be a stable situation — so far, anyway.

The rest of the timeline unfolded like this:

  • January 2019: Drummer Danny Carey says a new album will be ready in April. Meanwhile, Keenan claims that his vocals had been recorded months ago.
  • Early February 2019: Keenan throws cold water on an April release.
  • Late February 2019: Keenan says that the album will be out “sometime between mid-May and mid-July.”
  • March 2019: The band releases a picture of them in the studio with Joe Barresi.
  • May 8, 2019: Keenan reveals that the new album will be out August 30.
  • June 2019: While on tour, Tool plays a couple of new tracks.
  • July 22, 2019: Tool unveils a new logo.
  • Aug. 30, 2019: The wait is over.

It’s been a long wait, but it was worth it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go listen again.

Alan Cross is a broadcaster with 102.1 the Edge and Q107, and a commentator for Global News.

Subscribe to Alan’s Ongoing History of New Music Podcast now on Apple Podcast or Google Play

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