'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.





12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.


Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.


Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."


David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.


On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.


Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.


Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.


Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."


How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.