A Perfect Circle album review: Eat the Elephant

Maynard James Keenan founded Tool in the early ’90s. After dropping out of the military, he became involved in the LA music scene and joined bands, including Green Jelly, before hitting the jackpot with Tool.

Tool are massively popular. They’ve also been creatively dormant. Over the 12 years since their last album, 10,000 Days, there have been intermittent rumours of a new recording. All have been false – until now. There can be no doubting. There is video on the interweb of the band recording and Keenan has confirmed that he has written lyrics.

This is not the first time Tool has had a significant pause between creative output, although the current break is the longest. These pauses have been the single biggest reason Keenan has sought creative endeavour outside of Tool, in music and latterly, in a wine business.

The first of these non-Tool  projects was A Perfect Circle, who themselves have not released new work since 2004. A Perfect Circle came about when Keenan heard demos their former guitar technician, Billy Howerdel, had produced. He liked what he heard, the two put their heads together and A Perfect Circle was the result.

I fear APC are a bit too serious for their own good at times.

Their first release, the album Mer de Noms (Sea of Names) was criticised in some quarters as ‘Tool lite’ and not unfairly so, but it was quite a hit. Their second album, Thirteenth Step, was a critical and commercial success. The first three APC albums followed a theme, if not being actual concept albums.

Mer de Noms centred on relationships, romantic and otherwise, Thirteenth Stepis about drugs and their third album, Emotive, is a collection of protest song covers, released after the outbreak of war in Iraq.

Their new album, Eat the Elephant, brings with it more social commentary, but the mood is much more pessimistic. Musically, the band has continued somewhat in the direction of their work immediately preceding, with another collection of largely quieter, sparser songs, compared with the dense rock of their debut – which is not to say that they don’t unleash at times.

The title track that opens the album is a highlight. Piano driven and very downbeat, the album isn’t often as good as it is here. Piano on Eat the Elephant features heavily throughout. It is not so prevalent on track two, Disillusioned. An overwrought song (like several songs on the album at times), it tries too hard in its grandeur. Tool and even the tacky Puscifer have benefited from a sense of humour. I fear APC are a bit too serious for their own good at times.

Things don’t pick up till the excellent fourth track, The Doomed. One of the few songs on the album to include significant guitar riffs. So Long and Thanks for All the Fish is both an ode to recently departed stars Carrie Fisher, David Bowie and others and a dig at the excesses of the entertainment industry and celebrity. It is also almost an out and out pop song.

Talk Talk is one of the better tracks. Thematically it takes aim at the sort of Christian who behaves more like Tony Abbot than, say, Father Bob. By and Down the River is perhaps a “typical” APC number, with its prominent bass, solemnity and burst of rage three quarters of the way through.

Delicious offers something different. Absolutely guitar driven, it is the most forceful song on the album and one of the most effective. Hourglass is another misfit – it is propelled by bass and synths – a fine tune.  Album closer Get the Lead Out is another highlight on an album where about half the songs are great and a few are mediocre.

Eat the Elephant is a decent album, while not matching the brilliance of Thirteenth Step. Most APC fans will be happy that they’ve put out some new music, if for no other reason that they will be able to see them play live again.

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