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Album Review: A Perfect Circle’s Eat the Elephant

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I don’t think anyone was expecting A Perfect Circle to make a metal record. But Eat the Elephant, the band’s first studio album of new material in nearly fifteen years, isn’t even metal adjacent; it’s not even a hard rock record. Heck, some might argue that it’s barely even a regular rock album, period. For perhaps the first time in the band’s career, Billy Howerdel’s guitar playing often takes a backseat to his piano playing; the gorgeous title track, which opens the album, is not the calm before the storm so much as it’s the clouds before the drizzle.

Eat the Elephant is so mellow as to make 2003’s Thirteenth Step sound like Morbid Angel’s Covenant. Step made at least two concessions to fans initially lured in by “Judith” and the Tool connection in the form of “Pet” and  “The Outsider” — the latter of which, unsurprisingly, ended up being one of Thirteenth Step‘s most well-received songs, and was high-energy enough to show up in a trailer for one of the Resident Evil movies (or maybe it was one of the Underworld movies — same difference). There are no equivalent tracks on Eat the Elephant; the closest the band ever gets are songs like “Delicious,” “Hourglass,” and the Douglas Adams-referencing “So Long and Thanks for All the Fish,” none of which, I’m guessing, will ever appear in a trailer for a B-action movie. This is a record that concludes with a song called “Get the Lead Out” in which absolutely no lead is gotten out. Singles like “The Doomed” and “TalkTalk” hint at heaviness, but never quite realize it.

Which is not to say that the lack of rock is a deal breaker. Howerdel remains a talented writer of moody, catchy songs, and it goes without saying that frontman Maynard James Keenan knows how to do his job. Most of the material on Eat the Elephant is beautifully depressive, and the album is an easy listen, which I do not mean as faint praise (or a double-entendre, for that matter) — you will not have to struggle to get through Eat the Elephant in its entirety.

But you also may not remember it when it’s over. Thirteenth Step might have been chill, but there was a diversity to its chillness; other than being less-than-heavy, songs like “Weak and Powerless,” “The Noose,” “Blue,” and “Gravity” don’t have a ton in common with one another. But a lot of the material on Eat the Elephant sounds kinda similar. Some of that is the pacing of the songs; some of it is Maynard’s ethereal, (I assume deliberately) dispassionate vocal deliveries; some of it has to do with the departure of über-drummer Josh Freese, who has an amazing talent for somehow making simple drum parts far more complicated than they need to be without calling undue attention to themselves; and some of it has to with the fact that the hooks, though solid, are not as powerfully magnetic as their predecessors.

So Eat the Elephant might not be a great album. But it is a good one, and if it’s anything like APC’s other records, it will get better with age. In other words: it’s definitely worth your time… just don’t expect Retourner à La Mer Des Noms.

A Perfect Circle’s Eat the Elephant comes out April 20 via BMG. You can check out the track “TalkTalk” here and pre-order the album here.

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