Review Summary: A Perfect Circle drop their long-awaited fourth album, a cohesive and atmospheric rock record with ambitious lyrical themes and a superb vocal performance by Maynard James Keenan.
When society goes through trying times, art has an increased potential to provoke and make people think. While not a wholly political record, Eat the Elephant
touches on broad, relevant themes of corruption by those in power, mass isolation, and the recent deaths of beloved artists like Robin Williams and Prince. There is a dry sense of humor that appears at times, particularly in "So Long and Thanks for all the Fish" and "Delicious." This wisely keeps things from getting too heavy, being the most accessible A Perfect Circle release so far. The space rock atmospheres of Thirteenth Step
are present, and Eat the Elephant
still feels like A Perfect Circle, but acts as an effective evolution of their prior releases from the early 2000s.
The covers album eMOTIVe
is thankfully no longer the group's final studio release. While not the trainwreck many said it was, the project was misguided from the start. It came across as an attempt at a rousing protest album for the Bush era. However, it was comprised of cover songs by artists like John Lennon and Joni Mitchell, with the only original material being a remix from Thirteenth Step
and a great b-side, "Passive." eMOTIVe
drew a polarized response by fans and succeeded in reaching a Rattle & Hum
by U2 level of pretentiousness. And like U2 did, A Perfect Circle needed to take a knee and reevaluate. After a few years, work on Eat the Elephant
began. After so long a wait, it feels like an album that needed the time it took to be made. A wide range of emotions are covered, from thinly veiled anger in "The Doomed," to quieter piano-centric moments, to various styles of alternative rock.
For an album as sprawling as this, the flow of each track leading into one another is perfect, lending a concept-album feeling while exploring a vast range of topics. While still being personal, the record is more extroverted and topical than the brand of music usually released by songwriters Billy Howerdel and Maynard James Keenan. Keenan outdoes himself as a vocalist, with his versatile singing being a highlight throughout. Howerdel handles most of the instrumental duties, laying down all kinds of 90s alt. rock guitar riffs and spacier melodies as well. "Feathers" in particular sounds like a blissful extension of Thirteenth Step
. For all the strengths Eat the Elephant
has, one can’t help but feel that the drumming performance could have been more dynamic and technical at times. Still, the tone changes frequently, so having some consistent elements like similar rhythms and drumming keeps everything grounded.
Eat the Elephant
feels epic and diverse. Keenan implores humanity to reconnect with one another in somber album highlight “Disillusioned,” shames those who benefit from social and wealth inequality in “The Doomed” and "Delicious," and generally ponders how we got to where we are as a country and a society. This can’t help but feel like the effective protest album that was attempted in eMOTIVe
. The candid global themes of last year's To the Bone
by Steven Wilson is brought to mind, as the silver lining to the dismal state of current events is how compelling modern rock artists can be in funneling their emotions and craft into making excellent music like this.
Eat the Elephant
is engaging, atmospheric rock done right with intelligent lyrics and ambitious themes. From the more straightforward, energetic "TalkTalk" to the chilled out, Massive Attack-esque closer "Get the Lead Out," varied songwriting is alive and well in 2018. Even if socially, as the lyrics will express, there is a lot that needs to be changed. Those who understand Keenan and Howerdel know that the art comes first, and Eat the Elephant
does not exist to solely make more money and play to the nostalgia of previous success. There is an effective balance of being just similar enough to the first two releases while also entering new, adventurous territory. Whether or not this is a new beginning or a long-awaited farewell is unknown. In the end, the wait was worth it to hear a fantastic band return with relevance and maturity. A Perfect Circle are not living in the past; they've chosen to look forward and evolve while asking all of us to do the same, as we are meant to do.