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Eat the Elephant by A Perfect Circle is a comeback album many bands would kill for

14 years after their last album, A Perfect Circle is as angry as ever but finds new outlets for their rage as they mature finely
UPDATED JAN 10, 2020
Maynard James Keenan (Getty Images)
Maynard James Keenan (Getty Images)

It's been fourteen years since A Perfect Circle released any new full-length material. Now, on 4/20 day, when stoners, pot-heads and marijuana aficionados all over the world are in a celebratory mode, the iconic prog-rockers have decided to sweeten the day with their latest release, 'Eat the Elephant'. Coincidence? I think not...

A lot of things have changed over the last decade for A Perfect Circle. The band's lineup, which once boasted a supergroup-like stature with members of Smashing Pumpkins (James Iha; Matt McJunkis), Primus (Tim Alexander), Marylin Manson (Jeordie White) and Queens of the Stone Age (Troy Van Leeuwen) now retains just the two founding members, Billy Howerdel and of course, the one-and-only Maynard James Keenan.

The change is definitely noticeable in the musical feel of the album, a clearly softer, more intricate and melodic approach. But don't for one second assume that APC is not up to their old shenanigans. They are as pissed off as ever, as critical of the political landscape as they've always been and at their creative, finest best. But now, as age catches up with them, they've found a new way of expressing that rage, intertwining it craftily into the lyrics and endless progressions through the 12-song effort. The result is a much more mellow sounding album as compared to their previous body of work (especially the super-heavy 'Thirteenth Step' from 2003). 

Maynard chooses to croon his words on most songs instead of ramming it out with his signature death growls. This time, he uses the growls sparingly, and thus more effectively and meaningfully, emerging only when the tracks build to a crescendo, as is best exemplified in the tracks 'The Doomed' and 'Hourglass'. The lyrics yet again provide the perfect stage for Keenan's cathartic, surgical rants about his frustrations, whether it's directed towards the false-promises of politicians ('Talk Talk') or smartphone addicts ('Disillusioned').

The album opens with the slow-burner title track 'Eat the Elephant', which feels like the band is slowly coming back to life, as Keenan displays some of the sweetest and purest singing of his entire career. What's instantly noticeable is how different he sounds now. There is a certain mature undertone to his voice that's largely absent in his more aggressive projects (Tool and Puscifer) almost like scotch aged in a barrel. He's almost murmuring the words instead of belting them out. Meanwhile, Howerdel takes the opportunity to showcase some of his piano heroics which only get more and more impressive as the album plays on.

The opening track is almost like a 5-minute-intro to the album's lead single and undoubtedly the hookiest, catchiest and most accessible song of the album - 'Disillusioned'. The song is a warning to this smartphone-addicted generation, a reminder that it's "Time to put the silicon obsession down" and "take a look around and find a way in the silence" as Maynard sings during the interlude. Keenan also adds a nice touch to the opening of the song by chanting the word do-pa-mine through a vocoder. As one would expect from one of the most iconic prog-rock bands in the world, the chord progressions are spot on. Even the use of silence is crisp, as is evident on this track as well as 'Feathers'. 

'Disillusioned' slips suddenly into the eerie slow burner 'Contrarian.' There is a flourish of harps, piano and horns that set a daunting atmosphere through the entirety of the song, as the scale shifts ever so slightly from the previous track, but achieves a massive change in tone. This is followed by 'The Doomed', which is one of the few tracks on the album that echoes the band's early, relatively heavier sound.

The song is one that'll give you goose pimples, a hopeless, sludgy dirge that foreshadows the apocalyptic times. "What of the pious, the pure of heart, the peaceful? / What of the meek, the mourning, and the merciful?" Maynard asks rhetorically with much bitterness. He provides no answers in the end, wrapping things up with a guttural growl of the lyric "Fuck the doomed, you're on your own."

Again, APC quickly switches the tone up as they slide into the fifth track 'So Long, and Thanks For All The Fish,' a much happier sounding song whose title is a reference to the fourth installment in Douglas Adams' sci-fi comedy novel series 'The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.' But the happy, jubilant tone of the song is accompanied by grim and dark lyrics, one that celebrates the self-fulfilling prophecy of humanity bringing about its own destruction through nuclear war.  

"Bravissimo, hip hip hooray / What a glorious display / Melt our joyous hearts away / Under the mushroom cloud confetti," sings Maynard merrily as he sings about the foreseeable end of humanity. It's definitely the most power-packed song on the album and also features a host of pop-culture references, apart from the obvious one in the title. "Now Willy Wonka, Major Tom, Ali, and Leia have moved on," the lyrics go as Keenan pays homage to the recent deaths of Gene Wilder, David Bowie, Carrie Fisher, Muhammad Ali and Prince. It's a song that's hilarious and grim at the same time, one that makes you feel uncomfortable as you smile and nod along to the glorious, upbeat guitar riffs.

The frustration with modern times continue as the second half of the album unfolds too. 'Talk Talk' is a song that goes out to all the feckless leaders who only talk big and never deliver. No points for guessing who the song is addressed to.

"You're waiting on miracles / we're bleeding away," Maynard starts in a brooding and contemplative mood. Howerdel provides a sugary riff on the piano as the song builds towards an angry and bitter crescendo where Maynard unleashes all he's got. As the song comes to a grinding halt, it also marks the beginning of the more ambient, softer part of the album, which in my opinion, doesn't quite match up to the glory of the first half. 

'Down by the river,' while being easily the least accessible song lyrically, still carries the steady progression of the album. Just like 'So Long, and Thanks For All The Fish,' 'Delicious' also combines sweet melodies with sarcastically grim lyrics to provide a superb bittersweet symphony. Addressed in first person presumably to the higher-ups in the government and military that declare war without considering the real-life consequences for thousands of innocents, the song is a bitter anti-war anthem with an apt chorus that goes: "Not unlike you to hoist away / Hoist away your smug grenade / Choice and bed be made / Good night / Sleep tight."

The ninth song on the album, curiously titled 'DLB' is a strange fit, a two-and-a-half-minute discordant instrumental piano interlude that appears out of nowhere. It makes sense only when the next track 'Hourglass' breaks forth drowned in heavy synths and electronica, with almost rap-like crispness in the lyrics, a sound that is completely foreign to the rest of the album, but it still somehow fits well, especially as it continues the politically charged message of the album. It's a lovely experimental effort with a lot of curve-balls thrown in.

The album closes with the sprawling six-and-a-half minute 'Get the Lead Out', a pun on the phrase 'Get the Led Out' which means to pull out some Led Zeppelin records and turn the rock on! But there's no element of Led Zep to be found here. Quite the contrary in fact, because the song is the most experimental on the album. With a beat that's straight out of an EDM set and vocals drowned behind heavy synthesizers, APC will leave you scratching your head as to what just happened as the album closes.

So wrapping up, the album is definitely one that is enjoyed best in its entirety, and not in singles, as is typical with the rest of their works. Eat the Elephant has a grand, sweeping soundscape that takes its time to find a sure foothold before sucking you in. Maynard is yet again at the peak of his game, as he intricately weaves introspective, brooding lyrics around the song structures with such finesse that some of the lyrics could pass off as pure poetry, even without music to accompany them. Considering it has been 14 years since APC put out an album, I can surely say that Eat the Elephant is a comeback album that most bands would kill for!

Check out the entire album below via Spotify and Apple Music: