It’s been twelve years since Maynard James Keenan climbed from his underground wine cellar to feel the sun on his face once again, and give us all the gift of 10,000 Days. On top of this, it’s been fifteen years since the boys of A Perfect Circle, namely MJK and Billy Howeredel, were together in the studio for a project full of original music, instead of covers. But in late 2017, the group dropped “The Doomed” to much acclaim and apparently didn’t see their shadow, and so, here they are with the appropriately titled, Eat The Elephant.
For those of us who are familiar with APC, much of this record will come as a surprise, and the opening, title track is no exception. The title refers to the old phrase, which goes something to the tune of “You eat an elephant one piece at a time,” which MJK seems to imply rings true for the vast task of identifying the issues of the modern day and addressing them. The sparse instrumentation and simple vocals fly in the face of everything listeners have known about this group, but this doesn’t last long.
“Disillusioned” was perhaps the most impressive of the pre-release singles, and serves as a high point on the album itself. The band is immediately opting for a more industrial sound, something they’d flirted with on their last studio release, which was entirely covers.
“The Contrarian,” fits nicely into the niche carved by this first half, and is a welcome addition to an already impressive early lineup.“The Doomed,” by following in the trend of lyric heavy vocals and industrial instrumentation, really makes listeners worry that the old APC may not make an appearance on this project, as they’ve been known for all these years.
The group returns to form, however, on “Talktalk,” which is highlighted wonderfully by Billy Howerdel’s signature, growling guitar. Maynard’s vocals on this track are characteristically droning and omnipresent, and for a moment, they’re back. While the records second half is certainly the weaker, it isn’t without its highlights.
Maynard’s vocal presence on “Delicious,” is indescribably welcome to old school Tool and APC fans as he strings together the type of melodic and lyrical combo that only he can. This over the first truly rocking instrumental on the project makes for one of my favorite tracks in the setlist. The album is not without it’s weaknesses, though.
I was a fan of “So Long and Thanks for All the Fish,” when the band released it, but I never expected it to actually end up on this project. I had considered it a bit of a joke, and a fun reference to something of a cult classic sci-fi film, but it’s presence on Eat the Elephant is just jarring, and interrupts the rather serious overall tone.
It is, however, enjoyable on its own, which is more than I can say for “Hourglass,” which is simply annoying and over produced. A massive part of APC’s appeal has always been their organic rock sound, and while a turn to the less accessible sound works on most of this album, it is never so alienating and out of touch as on “Hourglass.” The effects on Maynard’s vocals ruin what may have been a catchy hook, and the instrumental itself never really finds its direction.
I found myself pleasantly impressed with Howerdel’s ability to utilize the kind of formless, interlude track on “DLB” as that is an often ignored skill which he puts to good use. He’s much less successful, however, on “Get the Lead Out.” An outro track who’s odd, hip-hop drum beats and out of place record scratches do no more to justify it’s nearly seven minute runtime than Maynard’s floundering and pointless lyrics, most of which just repeat the title. If you couldn’t tell, this is my least favorite track on the project.
The project is more than redeemable, though. MJK’s lyricism may not hit on every track, but when he’s on, he’s on. When “Delicious” opens with “How inconvenient and unexpected and harrowing for you, as consequences tend to be,” I just can’t keep from smiling. He takes on many of his familiar targets, namely religion, selfishness, addiction, and any general bad behavior he sees in the world today, while avoided the pitfalls of overly politicized writing. And his vocals are nearly as impeccable, making up for their apparent lack of edge with experience, and thoughtfully conjunct melodies.
Howerdel, for his part, is no slouch either. He really takes risks on this project, which were wholly undemanded by a fanbase which was excited even to hear anything new. Most of Billy’s risks paid off, and those that came up empty didn’t miss the mark by all that much.
Overall, when a mega-popular rock group comes back to the public light after a decade and a half of wine making and whatever Billy Howerdel does in his free time, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of trying to regurgitate the old sound. By contrast, A Perfect Circle challenges us. Howerdel asks us to follow him down musical rabbit holes which are often, totally unpredictable and MJK hits us with lyrics that push on the flaws he sees in everyone’s lives, from our religious hypocrisy, to our sense of numbness to the current state of the world. One can only hope that we will hear a followup to this very respectable project within the decade.
HEAR THE ALBUM: https://open.spotify.com/album/3Jr1RhAyndBxtyi8rJs3Op