20 Years On: Tool – Ænima

Tool Aenima album cover holographic

When I lived at home my family used to throw the best barbecues over summer. We had a big two-story villa with a generous backyard to match. Our parents would decide on a date and then we would invite all our friends. There would be kids swinging on the climbing frame and kicking balls at their parents, young children tormenting our dog, the blokes would stand ‘round the BBQ talking crap and the ladies would sit around in deck chairs catching up on the latest gossip and telling embarrassing stories about their children. The wheelbarrows were full of ice and there was any drink you could care to name. And more sausages, chops, steaks, salads, chips and dips than anyone could handle.

And the music. That was usually my highlight. When I was 17, my Dad and I built a stage on our roof to host some live bands. As you can imagine, I thought it was pretty damn cool to say that my band headlined a gig atop the roof of my house. We were told that the music was loud enough that it disrupted Saturday evening mass at the local church a block away. But for the sake of this story, I’m going to move on from the live bands to focus on our stereo that provided the music for most of the other barbecues.

This stereo was the stuff of legends. My mum had owned it since well before I was born and it has always made me wonder about her past. How did my gentle mother, the social worker who runs the women’s church group and does sewing in her spare time, come to acquire such a kickass stereo? And, to make it even more intriguing, we discovered some old Kiss and Led Zepplin cassettes that belonged to her. Anyway, regardless of my mother’s questionable history, that stereo pumped out some serious volume.

Dad had a worker called Tony at the time. He had been a lithographer before he decided to switch to building and he’d also had a background in the military. He was a Wellington bogan from way back who had been there when Shihad and Head Like a Hole were starting out. I always liked Tony. He treated me with respect and had taken it upon himself to educate me in the way of music. I used to help out on the construction sites during school holidays and Tony controlled the worksite radio. For the most part we listened to The Rock, but sometimes Tony would put on Solid Gold to mix it up, much to our horror. Every time a song would play Tony would quiz me about the band name and song title, and would feed me bits of trivia about the band.

So when we had our barbecues Tony always came. He would bring his little chilly bin containing bottles of vodka and mixers, and a supermarket bag full of CDs. He would control the party playlist, handing me a CD and telling me to put in on. Often he would say “Hey Joseph, you may want to skip this track – it’s a bit rude!” I remember him selecting Shihad, Rolling Stones, HLAH (Tony loved HLAH. It was a few years before I made the connection that HLAH and Head Like a Hole were one in the same.) And Tool.

Tool really stuck in my mind. Tony asked my dad if he could show me the CD cover for Ænima and then did so once he’d obtained permission. The artwork was really cool for the album. The images moved when seen from different angles. There was the box with the flames around it that flickered at different angles and the “third eye” with the two pupils that move. Under the disc was an image of the California coast disappearing into the sea. But the image that stuck in my head was a contortionist doing naughty things to himself. If you ever want to capture the imagination of a teenage boy showing him something like that is certainly one way to do it.

Fast forward a few months and I’m browsing through the albums at the local CD store, Everyman Records. Then I see it, that same Tool album, with the lenticular jewel case. Oh man! I bought it straight away and went home to listen to it. At the time I didn’t know how twisted the lyrics were for most of the songs, but I did know that I didn’t want my parents finding out that I owned the album.

They obviously found out soon enough. It’s not like I was subtle showing my newfound love for the band. My best friend Tom and I both bought matching “third eye” tshirts, much to both of our mothers disgust. And looking back, I can see why they weren’t too keen on their children listening to songs with titles like “Hooker With A Penis”…

But appropriate or not (OK, there’s no room for argument here – it’s definitely inappropriate), there was undeniable talent that went into the production of this album. Like 10,000 Days, and Lateralus – two albums that we also discovered soon after – the artwork and packaging was pretty awesome. I struggle to think of many other albums that impress me as much as the lenticular Ænima case, or the stereoscopic 10,000 Days case.

And the music was right up our alley. We were angsty teenagers wanting to rebel against the world with no reason to justify those feelings. What better way to showcase our misplaced emotions than to listen to subversive music like Tool? And we were in total awe of the musicianship that went into that album. The odd time signatures, the amazing tones, the monstrous drumming, the subtle layering. Maynard’s hypnotic singing, along with the whispers and screams and howls.

And the sheer weirdness of it all. Those filler tracks are so odd… The circus organ interlude, the recording of a needle skipping on a CD, the static and the baby cries, the cookie recipe made to sound like a Nazi rally… It added a twisted element of intrigue and humour to it all. It’s intellegent art-rock that outright snobs it’s listeners. System of a Down was the only other band I can think of that we were listening to at the time that made a  deliberate point of being so unusual.

It’s now been 20 years since Ænima was released. I’ve seen Tool play live twice (Big Day Out 2011, and Vector Arena 2013), and am among the devoted fan base who cling onto hope for another Tool album. It’s been a decade since their last, and although the rumours arise every year, we still cross or fingers and think: this year may be the one!

Until then I’ll can live with the six releases that the band has already given us.


Joseph James