Review Summary: “Thirteenth Step” offers an emotional album through the subject of addiction and recovery.
“Thirteenth Step” is an album in a class of its own. While the early 2000’s gushed out countless alternative acts, A Perfect Circle served as the best kept secret. Haunting melodies, gripping vocals, and a crisp sound give this album enough to evolve past “Mer De Noms.” Although the subject is simple, the album explores addiction in an immersive amount of intrapersonal and psychological directions that give the listener enough substance to remain song-after-song. For those who don’t want to read the full review, a shortened version is left at the bottom. Without further ado, let’s leap into “Thirteenth Step.”
‘The Package’ sets the tone for the album in what serves to be a style most familiar to Maynard James Keenan. The song details an isolated standpoint that describes the subject manipulating their way into achieving what they want. “Clever got me this far, then tricky set me in. Eye on what I’m after, I don’t need another friend,” delves the listener into the depth of the album ahead until the weight of, “take what’s mine,” drags them further.
“Tilling my own grave to keep it level; jam another dragon down the hole,” fills the atmosphere with ‘Weak and Powerless.’ A noticeably softer track following ‘The Package,’ ‘Weak and Powerless’ adds variety to the album delivering a more mainstream approach to the albums signature single. The bridge section of the song is especially impactful with the lyrics, “little angel go away, come again another day--the devil has my ear today.”
‘The Noose’ is the heart and soul of “Thirteenth Step.” Arguably one of the best tracks in A Perfect Circles discography, ‘The Noose’ tells the subject not to forget the struggles of their past, but to look forward to what they’ll become. ‘The Noose’ captures the essence of the album in describing the central theme of being in a thirteen step program. Lyrically, instrumentally, and emotionally, the listener can feel what the song is about. One can almost imagine sitting in the circle and facing the subject as they say, “…and not to pull your halo down around your neck and tug you to the ground, but I’m more than just a little curious how you’re planning to go about making your amends to the dead.”
‘Blue’ is another strong track off of the album. The opening riff is unconventional and gives the song character. The lyrics are a bit more complex than its predecessors. The song details a person in denial of their addiction, but switches between perspectives of the addict and an observer. The songs emotional chorus is enough to send chills with, “call it aftermath she’s turning blue, such a lovely color for you,” sending shockwaves throughout the experience. The song is noticeably lighthearted during points helping to relay the theme of ‘ignorance is bliss.’
‘Vanishing’ and ‘A Stranger’ are two underrated tracks on “Thirteenth Step.” Most write off these songs as filler, but skipping them takes away from the impact of the album. ‘Vanishing’ relies on its ambiance to deliver a chilling passage about vanishing during a high. ‘A Stranger’ is more ambiguous with its message, but is mostly regarding what I interpret to be a vicious cycle the subject cannot escape. Both tracks, although unpopular, are well done if not noteworthy.
“Lying to yourself again suicidal imbecile. Think about it, you’re pounding on a fault line,” invades the stereo as ‘The Outsider’ drives the pace of the album. ‘The Outsider’ provides some aggression to the mix and delivers an intense story about a person who fails to understand the mindset of a self-destructive individual. The pounding riffs and MJK’s signature vocals produce one of A Perfect Circle’s most recognizable tracks.
‘Crimes’ and ‘The Nurse Who Loved Me’ are the outliers on this album. There isn’t much to say about ‘Crimes’ other than that it counts the stages of recovery; however, ‘The Nurse Who Loved Me’ is more interesting. ‘The Nurse Who Loved Me’ is an eerie track that describes a person in a dream-like state fantasizing of a nurse. The track is quite polarizing among fans who don’t know how to feel about its inclusion. Objectively speaking, the track provides some experimentation for the band. It’s not a bad track, though many are turned off by the tone.
“Don’t fret precious I’m here. Step away from the window and go back to sleep,” are lyrics fans won’t soon forget. ‘Pet’ served to be one of A Perfect Circles most important songs in many ways, but the track serves to have many meanings. The most obvious is in regards to commentary on The War on Terror where the other deals with drug addiction. The lyrics describe an internal war between two halves of a person. One side begs the other to submit and stay safe where the other calls for rebellion. ‘Lullaby’ branches off of ‘Pet’ and leads into the closing track.
‘Gravity’ deals with an individual choosing to live and recover from addiction. The atmosphere allows for a refreshing vibe and a sense of serenity. The track provides a great relief from the wave of emotions felt throughout. “Catch me, heal me, lift me back to the sun—I choose to live,” sway the listener into a calmer side of A Perfect Circle as the album closes.
“Thirteenth Step” is a mesmerizing album accomplished by multiple standout tracks, musical maturity, and compelling stories. The immersive reality the songs deliver is astonishing in understanding the complexity of addiction and recovery. Although plagued by filler tracks, “Thirteenth Step” allows the listener into the headspace of an addict and takes them on a journey through a thirteen step program. Many say the somber approach to the album is a step down, but I find it necessary to the focus of the album itself. “Mer De Noms” and “Thirteenth Step” both tackle different themes. While “Mer De Noms” uses heavier industrial style sounds to capture the intrigue of A Perfect Circle, “Thirteenth Steps” softens up to deliver the reality of the theme.
One criticism I find is the organization of the tracks. I believe ‘The Noose’ would have been better suited as the closing track due to the impactful nature of the lyrics. The narrative would also flow better with the subject choosing to live, go on a path to recovery, and then result in a conversation about not forgetting where you came from, how hard it was to get there, and not letting your halo drag you down. The album, obviously, could have done without filler. ‘Lullaby’ and ‘Crimes’ were not integral to the overall experience “Thirteenth Step” has to offer.
All in all, “Thirteenth Step” is a great album I highly recommend. “Thirteenth Step” is without a doubt an important album to hear and is one of my favorites. Although the subject of addiction is common among musicians, I believe “Thirteenth Step” separates itself through the isolated nature of the lyrics. Addiction and recovery are delivered personally and psychologically instead of a standard ‘don’t do drugs’ perspective. A 4.5 is justified due to the impact the album has on A Perfect Circle and the quality of the songs involved.
Although flawed, “Thirteenth Step” offers an emotional album through the subject of addiction and recovery. Arguably among A Perfect Circles best, “Thirteenth Step” offers a somber and darker approach to the mindset of an addict through the use of compelling themes, immersive ambiance, and intrapersonal lyrics.