As with the band's debut, Bread & Circus, Toad the Wet Sprocket's Pale was recorded virtually live in the studio, a tactic the band would sadly abandon to varying degrees with each future album. Pale's leaden-hued production, supervised by ex-Lone Justice bassist Marvin Etzioni, imbues these songs with a welcome sense of space that gracefully separates each instrument without rendering a cold, stark sound. The piano-guitar interplay on "High on a Riverbed" is a gentle sea-swept gust, while the first nine bars of the jet black-humored "Corporal Brown" are some of the most organically textured electric guitar this side of R.E.M.'s original "Radio Free Europe." Singer Glen Phillips' voice is still charmingly undeveloped at this stage (he was 18 at the time), and the bandmembers exude a restraint and sagacity that belies their relative youth. "I Think About," for example, probes the value of absorbing life experience despite fleeting time, a subject most artists don't broach until they're two decades into a career. The beautifully sullen opener, "Torn," with its creaking-door intro, takes a different tack on the calendar of life as Phillips sings, "Please don't touch me/Love like an infant trying to stand up." It's a watershed moment on the album, and it arrives less than a minute in. It's been said that an aversion to joy is crucial in the development of strong rock songwriting -- otherwise, weak and weightless material often results. Bread & Circus abides by this axiom obediently to mostly stellar results; Pale, however, embraces the notion without reservation, and the improvement between the pair of albums is remarkable. Its exquisite songs mope without wallowing, avoiding the few teen angst clichés that pockmark its predecessor. Pale is early Toad at its old-soul peak.
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AllMusic Review by Charles Hodgkins