Tool Returns After 13 Years With a No. 1 Album

For years, the rock band Tool stubbornly sat out music’s digital era. It refused to make its albums of sludgy, off-kilter metal available online — not just on streaming services like Spotify, but download stores like iTunes as well — even well after fellow holdouts like the Beatles and AC/DC put their music online, giving the band an odd reputation as CD-bound Luddites.

But now Tool has had the last laugh.

“Fear Inoculum,” Tool’s first album in 13 years, has bumped Taylor Swift’s latest from the top of the Billboard chart, with a strategy that let the band make the most of its attachment to physical media while also finally joining the digital market.

“Fear Inoculum” opened at No. 1 with the equivalent of 270,000 sales in the United States, according to Nielsen. Of that total, 88,000 were for the CD version. And not just any CD: The initial run was a $45 super-duper-deluxe edition whose packaging folded out to reveal a four-inch HD screen with a built-in speaker that showed exclusive videos.

For the first time in its history, the band’s sales total also includes download and streaming numbers. Last month, Tool — perhaps as well known for its music as its stop-motion music videos — finally put its entire catalog online.

“There’s a brand-new thing we think you’re really going to dig,” Maynard James Keenan, Tool’s lead singer, said when announcing the move. “It’s called digital downloads and streaming. Get ready for the future, folks!”

Tool’s numbers for “Fear Inoculum” included 160,000 downloads of the album as well as 27.6 million song streams — a low streaming sum by pop or hip-hop standards, but better than recent rock releases by Slipknot (19 million), Vampire Weekend (23 million) and the Raconteurs (four million).

Swift’s “Lover,” which opened at No. 1 last week with 867,000 sales, fell to No. 2 with 178,000, a 79 percent drop. It was the first time a Taylor Swift album failed to hold the No. 1 spot for its first two weeks since “Fearless” in 2008.

Also this week, Lana Del Rey’s “Norman ____ Rockwell!” opened at No. 3, with the equivalent of 104,000 albums. “We Love You Tecca,” a new mixtape by Lil Tecca, the 17-year-old New York rapper who has dominated streaming services recently with his song “Ransom,” opened at No. 4 with 68,000. Young Thug’s “So Much Fun” fell three spots to No. 5.

Ben Sisario covers the music industry. He joined The Times in 1998, and has contributed to Rolling Stone, Spin, New York Press and WFUV. He also wrote “Doolittle,” a book about the Pixies. @sisario

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