Here's something that was different in 1988, a narrative rock band from Columbus Ohio, famous for The Godz and later Big Back Forty, and there was nobody quite like The Toll. The comparisons have been U2 but The Toll owed more to The Cult and Jim Morrison and The Doors. And Brad Circone was part Ian Asbury and part Jim Morrison. But dig a big deeper and Circone is more influenced by the likes of Sigmund Freud, F Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway to name a few.
The Toll was marketed as alternative rock and their debut album The Price Of Progression was a 9 song debut, but at 56 minutes it was one of the longest single albums ever put out. There are three epic narrative songs on Progression, the 10 and half minute Johnathon Toledo, which next to Mike Jackson's Thriller, the longest video ever made. It's interesting to hear Circone do a narrative about visiting a Indian souvenir shop and telling the story of how the white men took over what used to be where Indians were free to roam and putting them in reservations. It's one of those you have to hear to believe it. Even more stunning was the 10 and a half minute Anna -41-Box about a abused woman plotting revenge on her abusive and evil husband. The third 11 minute song, Living In The Valley Of Pain might be an anti religion song. The late Mick Ronson (David Bowie) appears on the final track Stand In Winter which other music sites suggested would have made a classic track for The Toll had Geffen Records promoted them right. The Price Of Progession, had shorter songs, Smoke Another Cigarette and Tamara Told Me got some airplay on the old 99 plus radio station and Jazz Clone Clown is where they do sound like The Cult. While the U2 comparison is overreaching, The Toll does have a credible rock and roll sound. But being on a major label, while enabling them to make an epic album like The Price Of Progession and getting Steve Thompson and Mike Barbiero to produce and give it that rock and roll sound, Geffen was clueless on how to promote them. In 1988, Geffen was more interested in Guns And Roses and Aerosmith and if The Toll was going to remain on Geffen, they had to focus more on shorter rock songs and cut out the spoken narratives since Jonathon Toledo failed to connect with the MTV generation.
The followup Sticks And Stones and Broken Bones, was issued three years later. The Toll did put together a new album but Geffen rejected it. That album had 12 songs and while Circone did shorter narratives on songs like Happy or Hear Your Brother Calling, the only song longer than 7 minutes was the last song Sweet Misery. While the record wasn't bad, the music was a bit all over the place and the jury is still out if Matt Wallace was the producer suited for The Toll. There's elements of Midnight Oil, especially on the backing vocals. It might suffer from too many songs and perhaps the major label indifference shows the band a bit frustrated. For a second album, it pales next to the inspired sounds of The Price Of Progression but Sticks And Stones And Broken Bones holds it's own and is worth seeking out if you're into good 90s Midwestern rock and roll.
But by 1991, Geffen had a major breakout band in Nirvana, Guns And Roses had Use Your Illusion 1 and 2 and The Toll was another tax writeoff and soon after Geffen bid them bye bye. The Toll broke up in 1992, but has reunited a couple times, in 1993 when Ronald Koal died, they did three songs and in 2011 got back together for another one off after the death of Andy Davis, radio station programmer. http://www.columbusmonthly.com/content/stories/2011/02/the-reunion.html
Life after rock and roll The Toll have made into the working world. Rick Selk is an attorney, Brett Mayo is energy management director at Ohio State University, Greg Bartram is a photographer and Brad Circone is an highly successful consultant and owner of Circone and Associates. http://www.circone.com//#home
And while the guys have gone to more successful ventures, those who witness The Toll playing live have mentioned that they have always put on a great show in their time together. In the archives of 80s rock and roll The Price Of Progression remains their classic moment in the spotlight. And still is a must listen for those who like a bit of story telling in those 10 minute songs that The Toll was good at.
The Price Of Progession (Geffen 1988) B+
Sticks And Stones And Broken Bones (Geffen 1991) B