Album Review : A Perfect Circle - Eat the Elephant (2018)
I like Maynard James Keenan. I wouldn't say that I love him, but I like him for a very precise reason: the man's art is almost pure of audience's expectation. He creates for himself and at his own pace, and he's talented and passionate enough that it resonates with a large audience. It took him fourteen fucking years to get back with Billy Howerdel and write a new A Perfect Circle album, which is a long time, but I don't mind such rarity in 2018 where artists are pushed to write more and more in order to stay relevant. It makes the release of Eat the Elephant so much more special.
But is the record good? Oddly enough, I'm not sure how to answer this question with a simple yes or no.
The first thing that threw me off about Eat the Elephant is that it's not a guitar-driven album. The dominant sound on the album is piano. Spacey and foreboding piano that lays the groundwork for the tormented atmosphere crafted by Keenan and Howerdel. Not only Eat the Elephant is taking another step away from the "accessible Tool" sound A Perfect Circle introduced on Mer de Noms in 200, but it's a step away from traditional, anger-fueled rock n' roll. I wouldn't call it exactly progressive either albeit the band is still taking liberties with song structure. Eat the Elephant is... I guess, atmospheric rock?
One thing I enjoyed about this new album is its overall flow and cohesion. The songs were obviously thought in the order they appear and fit into one another like pieces of a puzzle. The first three songs Eat the Elephant, Disillusioned and The Contrarian are spacey and brooding ballads who could've been three parts of the same, long song and lead the way into perhaps the most tormented (and rock-iest) part of the album which consists of early single The Doomed; So long, and Thanks for All the Fish and TalkTalk. And this quite contemporary vision of apocalypse unravels on the second part of the album in fragmented pieces like shrapnel from a powerful explosion. I definitely get what Maynard James Keenan and Billy Howerdel were going for and I appreciate how Eat the Elephant fucking sticks to its story.
But did I like it? I did love mixing the softness of piano with Billy Howerdel's trademark abrasive guitar sounds. Songs like Feathers and By and Down the River did that quite well. I also enjoyed the more alien approach, which is an appropriate reflection of the world in 2018. A Perfect Circle has absolutely no fucks to give about your nostalgy. Songs like Eat the Elephant and Disillusioned might've taken me aback by their softness and the subtlety of their textures, but they're thematically a great fit in A Perfect Circle and even more so Maynard James Keenan's. Of all the people in rock n' roll I would expect him to tell me that my expectations were garbage and that I should embrace the moment.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of Eat the Elephant, though was the way Maynard James Keenan chose to engage the bizarre state of the world in 2018. It's not always pretty. Sometimes it sounds like a bad motivational speech (Just take the steeeeeep/Just take the swiiing) but his point is salient: you need to take responsibility for the state of the world. That you may have played your part in Donald Trump's election and that you need to change to avoid chaos. He's at his most eloquent in songs like By and Down the River, The Doomed and the sardonic So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, where he finds the proper allegories to distance himself from his anger.
So, I'm aware that I'm unable to answer my own question: did I like Eat the Elephant? I guess so. This is not an exciting record by any means. Sure, it's a quite radical departure from A Perfect Circle's more abrasive rock sound, but it doesn't amount to more than the sum of its parts. There are a lot of cool ideas on Eat the Elephant, but they're individually great and don't create a greater portrait. At least not in the way Keenan and Howerdel got us used to in the past. I generally liked the album, but there were no transporting moment on it. Maybe it's going to age well, but I thought Eat the Elephant was slightly underwhelming for a fourteen years wait. I guess you can't completely sidestep expectations when you're in the business of selling music.