'Eat the Elephant' Marks a Fresh and Bold Artistic Statement for A Perfect Circle
A Perfect Circle balances the constructive dissemination of contemporary society in their unique way and, in the process, rather surprisingly, may have just made one of the most prescient albums of the year.
Eat The Elephant
A Perfect Circle
20 April 2018
If you're going to write an album about the ills and issues that plague modern society, where the bloody hell do you start!? With the sheer pace of change and with every week bringing a fresh crisis or scandal, any album that aims to shine a light on contemporary society can quickly become passe, therefore blunting the impact of any polemic.
Thankfully, this is something Maynard James Keenan manages to avoid on A Perfect Circle's first album in 14 years, Eat the Elephant. What at first might seem like a jocular title is actually the titular knot that binds the narrative of the album. Put simply Keenan uses the songs to address the various elephants in the room whether they be the current US president, humankind's addiction to technology, religion, and impending nuclear annihilation. Each issue is systematically unpacked with Keenan's customary mix of wit and wisdom.
Musically, with 14 years passing since the unbalanced Emotive, core members Keenan and multi-instrumentalist Billy Howerdel steer the band in a new sonic direction. Eat the Elephant is a much more textured work as defined by the use of piano and manipulation of mood as Howerdel's immediately identifiable guitar work.
Opener, "Eat the Elephant", gently eases the listener into the album. Built on emotive piano and jazzy drums, it's a brooding, atmospheric piece with only Keenan's voice giving any indication that this is, in fact, an A Perfect Circle Song. Lyrically, it works as the album's preface as Keenan realizes the magnitude of the task he has set himself ("Where to begin / Eludes me") before steeling himself to just get on with it ("Just take the bite / Just go all in").
"Disillusioned" opens with Howerdel's characteristic sliding guitar adding a little alt-rock grit. Nevertheless, the song resists the temptation to lurch into an anthemic chorus, instead segueing into lilting piano notes. Lyrically, Keenan warns against the dangers of the isolating effects of modern technology and social media as the chants the line, "Time to put the silicon obsession down / You were never an island."
"The Doomed" is a densely packed rock song that stands up against any of the band's older work. The song angrily skews Christ's Sermon on the Mount as Keenan sarcastically blesses the rich ("Blessed are the rich / May we labor to deliver them more") arguing that the meek are as far away from "inheriting the earth" as they ever have been, ("What of the meek, the mourning, the merciful? / All doomed"). The song works as a (depressingly) succinct summation of the power balance in modern society as the music snarls and snorts before charging forward to its chaotic conclusion.
The Douglas Adams referencing "So Long and Thanks for all the Fish",uses the passing of various cultural icons ("now Willy Wonka, Major Tom, Ali, and Leia have moved on") to prophecise the dawning of the apocalypse, ("signal the final curtain call in all it's atomic pageantry"). Musically, it begins as one of the poppiest songs in the band's catalogue, opening with all the anthemic, new-wave drive of a Killer's song before adding urgent strings and doomy cello to steer it to a more suitably apocalyptic conclusion.
On "Talk Talk" Keenan riffs on the phrase "talk the talk, walk the walk" as he decries those who never back up their impotent rhetoric with action ("While you deliberate / Bodies accumulate") as well as those who hide behind religion but show little signs of Christian empathy ("Talk like Jesus / Try walking like Jesus"). "By and Down the River" adds another beautifully succinct withering put down with the line "Searching you ass for a hint or trace of humility" over ringing early 1980s Cure-esque guitars.
Elsewhere, "Delicious" is the kind of mid-tempo protest song that Pearl Jam would kill for, while "DLB" is an ethereal instrumental piano ballad that wouldn't have sounded out of place on Nine Inch Nail's Ghosts album. "Hourglass" jars with coarse electronics with Keenan's obscured vocals sounding more detached than ever before. "Feathers" is a beautifully atmospheric, mid-tempo song that would have fitted perfectly on "Mer De Noms".
Album closer "Get the Lead Out" acts as the album's coda. After addressing the various "elephants" in the room, Keenan passionately calls for action as he states "Chit-chat, chit-chat / Ain't got time for that / We got places to be" all over uncharacteristic hip-hop beats and pinched violin strings.
Musically, Eat the Elephant marks a fresh and bold artistic statement for A Perfect Circle as each song unravels itself one layer at a time. Keenan balances the constructive dissemination of contemporary society in his own unique way and, in the process, rather surprisingly, may have just made one of the most prescient albums of the year.