I'd like to begin by taking you on a brief journey. Don't worry, it's not a long journey by any means, although in a way, it takes us to a place rather unrecognisable to where we are today. I'm talking about last November; specifically November 2, 2004. The politically aware amongst you will recognise that date as the day when US President George W Bush was re-elected for 4 more years in the White House, putting paid to global hopes that 4 years would have been enough for the USA to collectively decide that enough was enough. However, as the ancient saying goes, "every cloud has a silver lining", and in this case the silver lining was in large part made up of one thing and one thing alone: it looked as if the anti-Bush musical bandwagon had finally unceremoniously lost its wheels, and with these wheels had gone the bleatings of pop stars all over the world who were frankly talking about something on which many of them had very little basic knowledge. It's at this stage that A Perfect Circle enter our narrative, and with them comes their latest album, eMotive
In a way, the shock of this album was attenuated by the faint air of foreboding that was hanging over it. For a start, it's a cover album. While there may well be wonderful, earth-changing cover albums out there, it's probably fair to say that none immediately spring to mind. Leaving past commercial success aside for a minute, there's also the issue of creativity here. To many people a band deciding to release a cover album is a tacit admission that not only are they out of ideas, but that they're unwilling to really put in the graft to make the ideas come. Secondly, there was the timing of the album. Although the memories are fading now, it's worth remembering just how crazy the political music frenzy had got by the end of last year. Led by Green Day's renaissance as the undisputed heavyweight champions of pop-punk, you couldn't turn on the radio without hearing maddeningly oblique whinings from people barely older than the fanbase they were allegedly educating about the evils of a man that many of them had little but the vaguest interest in. Worse still, any fan of A Perfect Circle had always hoped that the band would somehow prove about this. After all, frontman Maynard James Keenan is famously enigmatic, with little about him being known, beyond his central creed of "think for yourself". Even to the most rabid A Perfect Circle fan it's clear that there's something of a contradiction between this and releasing an album on US Election day after repeatedly speaking out against the President.
What's worse of course is that all this was so avoidable. One of the great ironies of last year's juxtaposition between music and politics is that it didn't spawn a truly great album, even though many bands tried. With a lineup including Billy Howerdel, Maynard Keenan and Josh Freese, it wasn't absolutely beyond the realms of possibility that A Perfect Circle could salvage victory and produce an album that took classic songs and added a new interpretation that changed their meaning for a new audience. However, there is little danger of Lennon and Led Zeppelin's music being associated with A Perfect Circle based on this. After all, the problem here is not with the reasoning behind the album. The problem here is with the music, which ranks as one of the most diabolically terrible collections of songs that I can recall actually being prepared to spend money on. While going through a track by track of this would be too painful both for me and for you, there are particular lowlights of the album that need attention.
. OK, so it's a bold idea. Taking John Lennon's vision of a Utopian idyll, and turning into a dark, brooding song sounds like the kind of idea that's just crazy enough to work. It doesn't. You know how when you're driving you sometimes inadvertently start the car in gear? This song is like that, only rather than doing the obvious thing and putting the car into the right gear, the band just carry on juddering, without actually going anywhere. While the song's bad, the accompanying video is yet worse. Combining vivid scenes from the Iraq war with the music, it's the kind of pseudo-art project that an artistically retarded high school student would consider powerful, rendering the song utterly without merit.
Counting Bodies Like Sheep To The Rhythm Of The War Drums
. The real killer about this track is its positioning in the album. Coming in just when you think that the album's drawing to a close, this takes one of the band's finest songs in Pet
, adds an industrial background, and turns down all sensitivity in Keenan's voice, so he's left growling the vocals. It's 5 1/2 minutes of pure aural torture for any listener, but for a fan of the band it's particularly hard to take.
Gimme Gimme Gimme
bucks the trend of the rest of the album, during which Keenan's vocals often verge on the completely inaudible, but here the band go too far the other way by taking the Black Flag song, and seemingly arbitrarily deciding that this is going to be "the heavy one", regardless of what merits such a plan may or many not have. When The Levee Breaks
takes one of Led Zeppelin's most pounding, Bonham-driven songs and sucks the life out of it in such a way that you can't help but wonder whether the sepulchral figure of Billy Howerdel is an enlarged leech, sucking all momentum and creative ideas out of the music.
There is one bright spot to the album (relatively speaking), and that's Passive
. Contrary to what is often reported though, this is not an A Perfect Circle original song, but a cover of Vacant
by Tapeworm. Amid such poor quality music though, Passive
becomes the clear stand out track on the album, and one of, if not the only song here that you can envisage listening to again.
Having looked over this review the inevitable question rears its head; am I being too harsh here? Am I jumping on the flailing corpse of an album that received a backlash as much for its timing as its content? The honest answer here is a definite no. Although the sheer opportunism of the album is maddening for music fans, there is simply no overlooking the paucity of the fare on offer here. While A Perfect Circle were never realistically going to reinvent modern rock as we knew it, in Mer De Noms
and 13th Step
they had created two commendable, perfectly solid albums that had started moving them out of the towering shadow of Tool, the most famous project of any member of the band. With this album they not only destroyed that reputation, but also possibly left a permanent stain on any legacy that the band will have. I can't put it any clearer than to say, "Do not buy this album". It doesn't matter if you like any of the projects that the musicians involved in the band have worked on before, there is to all intents and purposes nothing enjoyable about the music here. If you have a particularly high-speed Internet connection, downloading it might be an option, if you're into masochism. Those of you who are not are better off taking the money you were going to spend on the album and donating it to the Republican Party in the hope that they'll wonder what they're doing wrong when teenagers start giving them their savings. It'll be as rewarding as listening to this.