Glen Phillips isn’t taking anything for granted anymore. The former lead singer of nearly four-times-platinum act Toad The Wet Sprocket, Phillips spent 13 years riding the roller coaster of the music business. That is until Toad had nowhere else to go creatively and broke up or, as the band says, “died of natural causes” in 1997. “I was affected poorly by losing my record deal after Toad broke up; it was difficult,” Phillips said in a recent interview with The Badger Herald.
To make matters worse, Phillips lost his father during his four-year hiatus from the music industry between 1997 and 2001. Creatively, this would be enough to break the spirit of most singer/songwriters, but not Phillips. No longer feeling a sense of entitlement or feelings of bitterness toward the record industry, Phillips focused on the creative energy that won him notice in the first place with Toad The Wet Sprocket’s hit tracks “All I Want” and “Fall Down.” His debut record titled Abulum is a beautifully mellow collection of tracks with sharp lyrics and melodies that linger in your head long after you finish listening to the record.
Abulum, titled so because it simply sounded silly, addresses issues that seem like they would have no relevance to the tempo of the music. The downfall of dominating corporate entities, living in an old store during post-apocalyptic America, dysfunctional relationships and a fascination with the dark side of life all find their place on the album and surprisingly mold into a heartfelt and honest look into the mind of a gifted artist.
Although Abulum was recorded in a live-band setting in an effort to avoid click tracks and vocal overdubs, Phillips isn’t taking anyone on the road. Instead, on his current tour he’s going solo, traveling the country like a character in a Jack Kerouac novel. Phillips will be playing tracks from Abulum, old Toad tracks and some new material he has been writing.
The album begins with the laid-back track “Careless,” which is an excellent introduction to the overall feel of the album. Perhaps speaking to his past sense of entitlement, Phillips sings in an honest voice “to be the one who always had it nice/ with not a clue and too much advice.”
First single “Fred Meyers” is an upbeat track that features Phillips fascination with post-apocalyptic America. The lyrics tell a story of people living in an old store after the apocalypse in which everyone must unite and form a community that is less concerned with the material interests that pervade our society these days. When asked about the sad irony between his fascination with the post-apocalyptic scenario and the current tragedy our nation has faced, Phillips said that his biography slightly misquoted his fascination with the idea and that “I am just fascinated with the dark side and the comfortable bubble we live in”.
“It Takes Time” is one of the album highlights. Opening with soft drum taps and some soft vocals from Phillips, the track opens into a melodic chorus with a slightly distorted bass undertone in which Phillips sings, “how am I gonna make time/ this is gonna take time.” Soft keyboard touches and some strings give the song texture and enhance Phillips’ vocals.
Phillips was asked by The Late, Late Show with Craig Kilbourn to perform his track “Darkest Hour” following the Sept. 11 tragedy. The slow, melodic track with upbeat sequences was most likely chosen because it helps satisfy the need to reflect in the soft parts and the upbeat portions of the track seem to symbolize strength and the ability to overcome the pain and remember that life goes on.
“Professional Victim” has the energy of “Fred Meyers” but with a crisper tone. The lyrical content describes the life of a woman who constantly finds herself in dysfunctional relationships with lines like, “but now she’s in her apartment/ alone for the first time since the last jerk.” The tone of the track is the total opposite of a track like “It Takes Time,” but meshes nicely into a collection of tracks that are very aware of one another and never stray too far from or disrupt the sonic essence of Abulum.
Glen Phillips has seen success and he has seen hard times. “Creatively, I am happy,” says Phillips, and the tracks on his impressive solo debut Abulum prove that he still has something to say. Even if you didn’t like Toad The Wet Sprocket, you should be able to appreciate the music for the sake of the musical approach on Abulum. The tracks gel, the music is melodic and the lyrics are worth reading.
Glen Phillips performs tonight at The Barrymore Theatre, 1281 Atwood Ave. at 1 p.m.