Review Summary: Counting bodies like sheep to the rhythm of the war drums...
One of the amazing aspects of Thirteenth Step is how beauty, elegance, disturbance, and sorrow manage to collide into one another in a completely seamless fashion. Sometimes it happens all at once in the same song. Whether or not someone has been addicted to anything, it’s quite evident that the concept of the record is staggeringly intriguing. The man himself, Maynard James Keenan, has said that he has never been addicted to any type of drug before, but coming off this experience, one really gets the feeling that the man has been keeping something from the general public. He is notorious for being a major recluse after all.
The concept of A Perfect Circle’s masterpiece is quite simple actually. It is essentially the process of going through the twelve step program of ridding yourself of an addiction of some kind. The process is not necessarily in order, but the point of the concept is that it shows the process through the eyes of the addict, the people around him, and perhaps the most chilling part about it, his own mind. It is Maynard’s inventive lyrics and Billy Howerdel’s beautiful compositions that makes the concept so complex, deep, and innovative for a mainstream release. Everything flows so seamlessly into another and there is a purpose for everything on the album. There is a reason that the album contains, not eleven, not thirteen, but twelve tracks.
Once the album starts, you will notice that it is immediately different than Mer De Noms. It has a different sound and it is more focused on delivering the message than playing melodically. The Package kicks off the album at the height of the addiction with Maynard quietly delivering lyrics about the drug deal that is about to happen. Howerdel plays a very subtle yet menacing guitar riff that is complimented by a fantastic bass line. The song soon explodes into a true disturbance as Maynard chillingly whispers “mine…mine…mine” and once it slowly fades out, you will be hooked and mesmerized. Another song that places you in the shoes of the addict is Pet, but this song does it to an even greater extent. The song is actually the addiction exclaiming to the addict that everything will be okay. All he has to do is “pay no mind what other voices say. They don’t care about you.” The song is hard hitting and unsettling like The Package and its boasts fantastic musicianship all around.
While some songs focus on the addiction first hand, some of them focus on the people around him that don’t fully understand what he’s going through. The Noose is an incredibly lovely song filled with euphoric guitar riffs, beautiful effects, and it is a prime example of elegance and sorrow colliding. The lyrics are a family member or friend admitting that there are happy to see that the character is happy. However, this friend can’t help but wonder how the poor people that were killed because of the addiction will be repaid. While The Noose is more respectful in the way it’s delivered, Blue and The Outsider focuses on how people around can perceive the situation. The euphoria continues into Blue as an eerie guitar riff drives incredible harmonizing on Maynard and Billy’s parts. Maynard exclaims “call an optimist/she’s turning Blue/such a lovely color for you” and it is delivered with a certain amount of guilt that you begin to really feel for the person that is overdosing. After all, the person is just watching it happen and doing nothing about it. While Blue shows the cluelessness of the situation, The Outsider shows the ignorant side of it. It’s one of A Perfect Circle’s best known songs and rightfully so. The song is dark, surprisingly intelligent considering the subject matter, and extremely heavy for mainstream music’s standards.
The sorrow side of the album is the hardest hitting aspect of Thirteenth Step. Gravity and A Stranger are the true highlights of the album when it comes to delivering on guilt, depression, and overall revelations. A Stranger is a literally stunning acoustic song filled with swelling synthesizers, beautiful strings, and some of Maynard’s best lyrics about a relationship that is forced to diminish for the better because the drugs are bringing it down. It’s sad, but uplifting to here Maynard passionately confess “I’m better off without you/tearing my will down.” Gravity is perhaps the best song to end on best it provides the most uplifting message out of every song on Thirteenth Step. Billy’s talent as a composer really shines through in Gravity and it is his crowning achievement. His ability to convey emotion through music alone in this song is astounding due to his emotional guitar riffs scattered throughout gravity. It’s all topped off with the revelation that the character wants to change. “Catch me/heal me/lift me back up to the sun/I choose to live…I choose to live.”
This is album is the epitome of a hard hitting emotional experience in music. A Perfect Circle often gets the label of alternative metal, but this album as a whole is simply something much more. It is something special and regardless of anyone’s opinion of Maynard, whether it be that he is pretentious, lazy, or simply an asshole, this is one of the most passionate works he has ever been involved with. Billy really struck gold with bringing him in as his primary vocalist. Save this album very a gloomy cloudy, turn it on, and be taken away.