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Marketing Tool

It's all semantics: A single CD and a four-track video compilation now constitutes a boxed set. When will it end?

These "is it a boxed set/is it not a boxed set" questions hint at the "what" of Salival, but the more confusing aspect is the "why" of Salival. Why would a band that has not released an album since 1996 unleash this strange beast now?

Because this strangely formatted maxi-album/mini-boxed set epitomizes the trouble with marketing Tool and leads us to point No. 3.

Think about it: Where exactly does Tool fit in the musical world? The band first appeared in the post-grunge alternative-rock signing frenzy of the Lollapalooza days, but they're not really grungy or alternative. They've played Ozzfest, but they aren't really heavy metal or nu metal. They release new albums only slightly more frequently than Guns n' Roses, yet they maintain a loyal following. They espouse drug use for psychic exploration, Enochian magic, spiritual growth and the pursuit of arcane and esoteric knowledge. Are they a rock band, an art project or a secret magical society? In today's post-Columbine climate, Tool is a band that must frustrate the bejesus out of PR people. They're a good band, they make good albums, but do you really want the kind of media attention their music and ideas will eventually garner? Not with John Ashcroft as attorney general, you don't.

So you release an album that is accessible to both Tool's core audience and any potential new audience without taking any unnecessary risks. Release some old songs in a new live format, throw in some images that have already been broadcast and package the whole thing in a beautiful box. And on the front of that box, put a big sticker that reminds both old and new fans that the fourth Tool album will be out on April 17.

The results are mixed. Those core fans get some pretty packaging, some variations of familiar songs, some videos they taped off MTV four years ago, a whetted appetite for the long-awaited new album and the feeling that they didn't quite get ripped off but didn't get quite what they wanted. New fans get a easily digested sample of what to expect from Tool (good music, great art and some unusual ideas) before their opinion can be shaped by the scandal-driven and reactionary mainstream media, but they don't get the full-on weirdness of Tool's live spectacle or philosophy. And so Salival ends up feeling more like a triumph of marketing and packaging than anything else.

As for point No. 4, that's easy: The Point sucks, and the staff can't tell musical shit from shinola, even when they have to dig through the ass end of the last track on an album to find it.

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