ALBUM REVIEW: “Eat the Elephant” – A Perfect Circle (2018)
I’ve never liked A Perfect Circle. When they debuted in 2000 with Mer de Noms, I was instantly disappointed by the band’s lazy, faux-gothic approach to presenting the talents of an otherwise gifted singer Maynard James Keenan. Despite the pedigree that Keenan yielded to A Perfect Circle, Mer de Noms, and the two that followed – Thirteenth Step and covers record eMOTIVe – sounded flat and overcooked. In short, APC seems to have always written songs they wish were complicated and meaningful, but instead sound simple and empty.
A mile wide, but only an inch deep.
Fast forward a decade and some change, and enter new album Eat the Elephant (BMG), a mixed, but improved effort. This is a political record and its theme runs throughout, with Keenan addressing those (read: Americans, voters, deplorables) who were “rewired by clever agents” (“Disillusioned”), and a demagogue whose “core is black as pitch”, whose “soul is out of tune” (“Contrarian”).
Perhaps for the first time since “Opiate”, Keenan takes evangelicals to task (“TalkTalk”, “The Doomed”), belaboring the religious right’s hypocrisy (“The new beatitude: Good luck, you’re on your own”). “The Doomed” is an especially barbed number, featuring guitarists Billy Howerdel & James Iha, who fill it with down-stroked thumps, and Roman candle leads. All the while Keenan seethes, “Blessed are the rich/May we labor and deliver them more”.
Make no mistake, this is the tone of something that is wholly matured. The band, after all this time, finally coalesces on the first six songs, which are sublime in their haunting elegies (“Eat the Elephant”), apocalyptic ballads (“So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish”), and echoing meditations (“The Disillusioned”).
And then there are the other six songs, which somehow sound so derivative I occasionally have a hard time not rolling my eyes. Remember the early aughts? It sounded like this, unfortunately. The entire second half is a trivial river of melancholy and melodrama with mindlessly boring arrangements. A centimeter deep, if that.
Progress, not perfection. At least this is progress.
Can’t wait for that new Tool album.