A Perfect Circle ‘Eat The Elephant’ Album Review

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A Perfect Circle ‘Eat The Elephant’ Album Review

River Atkinson, Staff Writer

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On April 20, 2018, alternative rock supergroup A Perfect Circle (APC) released Eat The Elephant, their first full studio album in 14 years. Fans have eagerly awaited the 12 track album since it was announced in February 2018. Maynard James Keenan, the band’s frontman, has been too busy with his winery, Caduceus Cellars, and his two other bands, Puscifer and Tool, to work on any music for A Perfect Circle in the last decade. Similarly, the band’s co-founder, backup singer, and multi-instrumentalist, Billy Howerdel, has had little time to work on new APC music due to constant touring, as well as music-making with his band, ASHES dIVIDE.

Fans were teased with multiple singles released before the full album. Each of these was strong musically, lyrically, and vocally. The first of the singles, ‘The Doomed’, was dark and cautioning. Continuing the political motivations from APC’s last album, eMOTIVe, ‘The Doomed’ talks about how in the modern age of greed, war, and gluttony, the common and decent people are dying out.

“Blessed are the fornicates
May we bend down to be their whores
Blessed are the rich
May we labor, deliver them more
Blessed are the envious
Bless the slothful, the wrathful, the vain
Blessed are the gluttonous
May they feast us to famine and war”

The strong guitars, haunting drums, mysterious keys, and heartful vocals all had fans convinced that A Perfect Circle was back and stronger than before. ‘The Doomed’ became a rock radio hit, and one of the bands most listened to songs on various streaming platforms. 

The next several singles supported the fan speculation that this new album would be their best yet. ‘Disillusioned’, a piano-driven song about the modern obsession with smartphones, ‘TalkTalk’, A beautiful track about the need for action in the face of gun violence and other worldwide issues, and ‘So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish’, an upbeat and sarcastic song poking fun at life in the modern age while saying goodbye to celebrities like Prince, Carrie Fisher, Gene Wilder and David Bowie, were all outstanding releases that promised one heck of an album.

Then the record came out. Eat The Elephant, 14 years coming! The band had gone into the studio with more experience, fresh ideas, and an eager spirit. Would the record live up to the band’s cover of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’  off their 3rd album? Would it climb out of the shadow of ‘Judith’, the band’s first real hit?

The answer was a clear yet surprising “no.” Not that the album isn’t any good. Far from it, actually. But it did not live up to the expectations built over a decade of hype. To start with, it needed more testosterone. Several of the songs, such as the opening and title track ‘Eat The Elephant’, or ‘DLB’, were downright boring.  There’s a difference between a song being slow and a song being boring.  ‘The Noose’, for example, off A Perfect Circle’s sophomore record Thirteenth Step is slow, and it’s one of the best they’ve ever made. So there is no excuse for there to be a boring track, much less two or three, on the new album.

The second thing that immediately struck me when listening to Eat The Elephant was how much focus they put on pianos. In every track on the album, pianos are featured heavily, as if during the band’s 14 year hiatus one of the members learned the instrument and wanted to prove it. While the pianos aren’t necessarily a bad thing, especially on songs like ‘TalkTalk’ and ‘Disillusioned’, there were several points in the album where it seemed like other instruments needed to be given a higher priority.

The rest of the album is absolutely spectacular. A Perfect Circle is one of those few bands who can make rock music beautiful while saying something relevant and intelligent. They reworked ‘By And Down The River’, a song that originally appeared on the 2013 compilation album Three Sixty, and turned it into a more alluring song that fits better with the album. 

‘The Contrarian’ is a slower track, heavily featuring drums and pianos, about people who use their every breath to deceive. Near the end, Howerdel’s signature guitars kick in and it descends into a powerful and almost cinematic ending. 

The 8th track, ‘Delicious’, has a similar meaning to ‘The Contrarian’, though it has a more upbeat and acoustic melody as it sarcastically talks about someone receiving consequences for their nonchalant and self-serving behaviors for the first time. The only problem with this song is that it has no end; the instruments randomly cut off before the start of the next song.

Perhaps the most beautiful song on the record is ‘Feathers’. Originally only previewed during live performances in the fall of 2017, ‘Feathers’ quickly became a fan favorite. Done in a similarly slow, mournful and bittersweet style to ‘By And Down The River’, ‘Feathers’ talks about reconciliation for damages caused in the past, as well as offering aid to people regardless of familiarity. Keenan sings the song with so much emotion that every note and word grips the heart.

 

Maynard James Keenan, Matt McJunkins, Billy Howerdel, James Iha and Jeff Friedl posing for their Coachella 2018 set

The most musically controversial song on Eat The Elephant is clearly ‘Hourglass’. It breaks from the band’s usual style of alternative metal and delves into electronic rock. Though they’ve broken the mold and explored other styles before, like with eMOTIVe’s ‘Counting Bodies Like Sheep To The Rhythm Of The War Drums’which was on the industrial side, ‘Hourglass’ goes a much different and more unusual route. Opening with synthetic eastern-sounding guitars and odd experimental vocals, it quickly descends into a hard headbanger of a song.

The lyrics are also fairly confusing, another reason why it left fans scratching their heads. The chorus consists of robotic voices chanting “Aristocrat breaks down too, Democrat breaks down too, Oligarch breaks down too, Republicrat breaks down too, no hope left in the hourglass”.  This created a lot of discord among fans because it was so different. In the past, Keenan and Howerdel had refrained from using synthetic vocal filters not just in A Perfect Circle, but in their other projects as well.  The first verse puts more confusion into the song,  talking of a “Tokyo kitty swallowed, rose, and canary”, which could refer to the expression “the cat who swallowed the canary” used to describe a smug person. The odd style and strange lyrics made many fans deem it a song by “A Perfect Puscifer”, a jab that says the song sounds like it belongs to frontman Maynard James Keenan’s multi-genre project Puscifer, which is comedy-fronted.

Though ‘Hourglass” is thoroughly unusual, it’s one of the stronger songs on the album. The guitars are simultaneously different from anything they’ve done and a nostalgic callback to the feel of the debut APC record, Mer De Noms. Once one is able to decrypt the lyrics, it becomes clear that they’re actually very intelligent, and speak of a world left hopeless after every form of government is corrupted and broken down. The emphasis is on how there isn’t much time left until that reality is upon us. Honestly, one could listen to it on repeat for hours without it getting dull.

The album finishes with a nearly 7-minute long track titled ‘Get The Lead Out’. Like ‘Hourglass’, it has an experimental feel to it, but rather than being heavy and electronic, ‘Get The Lead Out’ is slower, glitchy, and evocative.  The band knows how out of place this album is compared to their others, that they don’t care, and that fans should get over it. “Chit chat, chit chat, ain’t got time for that/We’ve got places to be/we’ve got mountains to climb/Suck it up buttercup/Not one to dawdle, got no time to coddle you” sounds like the band saying they did what they could and what they wanted with the time they had, and are too busy to bow to what the fans think of it. The song does drag on too long in my opinion, but it was still a strong end to the album.

All in all, Eat The Elephant is a solid effort by A Perfect Circle. Not their best, but still really well-made. Lyrically and vocally it’s phenomenal. They managed to still sound like APC without being stuck in the past. They took the step, took the swing, took the bite, and went all in with this record.  For the most part, it really worked. If they’d eased up on the pianos a bit and put more effort into the aggressive side of the music, it would be perfect.  Because some songs, especially the title/opening track, were dull, and they put too much focus on pianos, the album feels like a bit of a letdown.

Rating:  7/10.

Buy the album: Eat The Elephant

 

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River Atkinson, Student writer/journalist

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