Review Summary: Through achievements and missteps, it’s a band striving for progress.A Perfect Circle
were, and still are, a very misunderstood supergroup. You could cite this to a number of things, but it really stems back to the fervor that follows frontman Maynard James Keenan anytime some update to a new Tool
album emerges. A Perfect Circle were not Tool. Really, they did everything they could to not
be Tool. They were something else entirely. They capitalized on moody, toned guitars, ambient soundscapes, and a focus on serenity, even in ugliness and anxiety. Across only three studio albums (one of which being the covers album Emotive
), they established themselves as a powerful alternative metal supergroup, one whose presence pursued even through the band’s hiatus. After reuniting, the band has been sharing new material at live shows as far back as 2011, but these cryptic tracks only attained full context with the announcement of a new album. Now, with 14 years of on-and-off collaboration finally realized, A Perfect Circle have released Eat the Elephant
, their first studio album since 2004’s Emotive
While not every track has the elegance of their past successes, A Perfect Circle are daring to evolve on Eat the Elephant
, creating their most experimental work yet, while still retaining that mood and ambiance that the band has established since their inception. Through achievements and missteps, it’s a band striving for progress.
Maynard James Keenan hasn’t been shy about his political views (at least not recently), so it’s kind of assumed that the new A Perfect Circle album would have its share of commentary. On Eat the Elephant
, Keenan takes on post-tragedy “thoughts and prayers” (“TalkTalk”), infatuation with technology (“Disillusioned”) and general hesitance to get involved with the world around you (“Eat the Elephant” and “Get the Lead Out”). Keenan has a lot to say, but his messages are so overt and borderline literal in their lyrical content that the album lacks the mystique and ambiguity that propelled past albums’ lyrics (prepare to roll your eyes at “Disillusioned” and its lyric “time to put the silicon obsession down”). However, other tracks like the fantastically potent “The Doomed” and penultimate track “Feathers” display their subject matter with much more subtlety, strong references and anecdotes that show Keenan’s writing in a better light. It’s a hit-or-miss situation; at his best, Keenan is an elegant and culturally conscious lyricist. At his worst, he’s referencing mundane occurrences that do nothing but date the album.
On an instrumental level, Eat the Elephant
is A Perfect Circle changing their course, experimenting with tones and movements. Half of the tracks on the album blow past the 5-minute mark, constantly shifting in tempos and moods, sometimes throughout a single track. “Disillusioned”, for all its lyrical infidelity, shifts between steady rhythms and melodic guitars into haunting pianos and Keenan’s hushed vocals, all across its six-minute length. The group finds plenty of ways to throw the listener for a loop, like in the uplifting, pseudo-celebratory “So Long, And Thanks for All the Fish” and the warped electronics and distorted vocals of “Hourglass” (the latter is bound to alienate some listeners). “Get the Lead Out”, with its maddening, ticking-clock guitar sounds from Billy Howerdel and Keenan’s very faint vocals, is an odd closer, but one that only furthers the band’s drive to challenge expectations and further progress their established sound.
When it comes right down to it, tracks like these don’t sound like A Perfect Circle, which is the biggest note to make on Eat the Elephant
. Between the longer song lengths, shifting dynamics and tempos, and unorthodox instrumentation, this is a ruthlessly experimental album from APC. Aside from “The Doomed” and maybe the chorus of “TalkTalk”, good luck finding a heavy moment on this album. There’s no “The Hollow”, “Judith”, or “The Outsider” to get the heads banging; A Perfect Circle made their most experimental record yet and did it with total conviction. Admittedly, it would’ve been great for a few more heavy tracks to invigorate the tracklist, but the band deserves credit for using their extensive studio hiatus to create something this unaccommodating and unique to their discography.
But not everything has changed. Somehow, some way, A Perfect Circle still retain that mystique, that otherworldly, but serene sound that made tracks like Mer de Noms
’ “Orestes” and The Thirteenth Step
’s “Gravity” so incredibly moving. “By and Down the River” (a re-recording of “By and Down” from their greatest hits album Three Sixty
), while not as textured as its past form, is still one of the best tracks the band has written, bar-none. As a highlight on Eat the Elephant
, it’s only rivaled in quality to the absolutely stunning “Feathers”, which is an APC classic in the making. Eat the Elephant
doesn’t conceal its familiarities, but instead uses the band’s new directions to expand them. Yes, these creative turns don’t always go off without a hitch, but there’s something comforting in knowing that A Perfect Circle’s beautiful aesthetic still manages to show itself.
Eat the Elephant
is A Perfect Circle changing. They’re daring to go beyond the templates they’ve designed in the 2000’s, embracing entirely new directions, even at the cost of alienating those who’ve experienced their music in the past. Is every new direction a success? I don’t believe so, but when the band hits, they hit hard. Tracks like “The Doomed” and “Feathers” can stand alongside “Judith” and “Counting Bodies Like Sheep…” as some of the best tracks the band’s composed, and even in the off-kilter moments like “Disillusioned” or “Hourglass”, A Perfect Circle’s ambition is on full display. What this means for the band’s future is still unknown, but right now, Eat the Elephant
is a promising start to what could easily be another golden age for A Perfect Circle.