On their latest album, Eat the Elephant, longtime rockers A Perfect Circle deliver a complex and multifaceted album that transitions between aggressive and somber in its tone and sound.
After a fourteen year hiatus between studio albums that saw a greatest hits compilation and a few return tours, expectations were high for Eat the Elephant. Fans clamored for new music while the band members pursued other endeavors. In that time, singer Maynard James Keenan released albums with his side project Puscifer, and became a vintner, releasing his own signature wines. Guitarist and primary songwriter Billy Howerdel also stayed busy, releasing his own side project Ashes Divide, as well as continued to write music for various projects. However, it seems that the time away from the band has altered their sound and songwriting.
This is evident just by listening to the first track, “Eat the Elephant.” With a bass line that resonates like a heartbeat and an ethereal piano melody, this song is a vast departure from previous hard rock based album openers such as “The Hollow” and “The Package.” As the second song “Disillusioned” fades in, the familiar APC sound seeps through and listeners are treated to a the first powerful combination of hard driving bass lines and the subtle smoothness of Maynard’s voice. Surprisingly, the middle of this song eschews its rock characteristics and switches back to the softer piano and vocal combination used on the previous track, before transitioning back into hard rock.
For listeners looking for heavier sounding songs reminiscent of APC’s first album, Mer De Noms, the fourth track, “The Doomed,” is definitely the most aggressive track on the album. A harsher guitar tone combines with primal drumming in a sonic force that is almost hypnotic in its rhythm, as if compelling the listener to headbang and pump their fist in time with the song. Surprisingly, the album’s other heavy offering, “Hourglass,” is an in dustrial rock influenced gem that sounds more appropriate on a Ministry or Nine Inch Nails album than this one.
While “The Doomed” and “Hourglass” revel in their heaviness, “Feathers” and “By and Down the River” adhere to the traditional APC songwriting formula and will no doubt dominate rock radio charts. “Feathers” sounds much like an offering from APC’s second album, Thirteenth Step, a perfectly layered mixture of haunting guitar riffs and powerful rhythm sections. Surprisingly, “By and Down the River” is a revised and fleshed out version of the previously released “By and Down” from their greatest hits compilation. While the first version of the song sounded great, this reworked version adds depth and intricacy to an already great song.
However, the highlight of the album is “So Long, and Thanks for the Fish.” This track is unlike any other on the album and best represents the evolution of APC after their extended hiatus. With hints of David Bowie scattered across the vocals and background music, this track is incorporates orchestral strings and the piano with Billy Howerdel’s distinctive guitar riffs and creates an epic composition that ebbs and flows with the beat. Lyrically, Maynard makes references to pop culture icons and the ironic state of our current self-obsessed culture. Even the title is a tongue in cheek reference to Douglas Adam’s classic sci-fi novel, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in which all the dolphins on planet earth leave the planet and say the infamous words, “So Long, and Thanks for the Fish,” as their goodbye to a planet facing cosmic destruction. Not surprisingly, Maynard has chosen to reference this novel to add another dimension to his already incredible lyrics, and listeners will find themselves singing and humming the lyrics and melody long after hearing this track.
Much like Maynard’s other band, Tool, A Perfect Circle’s lyrics are both poetic and complex, often times containing metaphors and references to works of art and scenarios that are personal to Maynard himself. However, analyzing and deciphering Maynard’s lyrics is an entirely different article that must wait for another day.
Overall, Eat the Elephant is an album with multiple identities, often channeling previous incarnations of the band and while at the same time trying to reestablish the band as a super-group of talent and songwriting. And while it may not be the magnum opus fans were expecting, it is still an enjoyable album that is worth a listen.