Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Album Review: A Perfect Circle - Eat The Elephant

I am of the right age that "Judith" was massively influential, both to me and my generation. It came around at just the right time, and showed us that rock and metal in the mainstream could be both commercial and artistic, successful and visceral. It was a moment in time where the stars aligned, and we got to hear the condensed sound of perfection. In the years that followed, A Perfect Circle lost me as they moved into more obtuse and artistic directions, digging deeper into their desire to be meaningful artists. After the very first album, I could feel myself slipping away from them, so their inevitable return was met with fanfare everywhere, but I was far more cautious.

Their new album, "Eat The Elephant" is both not what you might expect, and also exactly what I knew was coming. Gone are the days when the band could conjure moments that tore through you with fire and passion beyond their own heaviness. Today, A Perfect Circle is more of an emotional band, using texture and nuance to tug at your heartstrings, rather than yank the organ out to feel it beating in their bare hands.

If you come to "Eat The Elephant" expecting anything approaching what rock is in the modern day, you will be disappointed. They don't deliver much in the way of roaring guitars, impassioned vocals, or palpable anger. They are more subdued, more introspective than that. Rather, Maynard James Keenan and Billy Howerdel use every tool at their disposal to create beautiful backdrops that lull you in, more a tapestry than a banner. You have to look beyond the first impression to understand all they are doing here.

The most interesting aspect is that Maynard and Billy have more or less traded the usual roles of their instruments in a rock band. Maynard uses his voice and phrasings to create rhythms more than melodies, while Billy's guitars weep and weave melodies in the background, often eschewing rhythms at all. That turns convention on its head, which leaves us with music that is both interesting and a bit odd.

Looking at the aim of this music, there is nothing to say besides it is a clear success. Their music has a soft touch that feels like a ghost reaching out, but you find yourself haunted later on. It's a sly way of subverting the audience, and it creates an album that will leave a different impact than any other you will hear this year. Is it even a rock record? That's a question I'm having trouble answering. The elements are there if you look for them, but it never feels like one. It doesn't need to be, except for the expectation.

Here's the thing about "Eat The Elephant"; I don't know how often I am going to be drawn to listen to it, but it is one of the most intellectual and interesting albums of the year. Whether it speaks to you or not, flipping the script the way it does leaves you thinking not just about what you heard, but what music is and should be. Being able to get you to think is something music doesn't often do. That's commendable. No, this isn't going to tap a zeitgeist the way "Mer De Noms" did, but A Perfect Circle has a different role in the music world today, one that only they seem willing to try to fill.

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