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A Perfect Circle - Eat The Elephant (Album Review)

Wednesday, 09 May 2018 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

Many critics don't put much stock into dissecting album art, but it's tricky to talk about 'Eat the Elephant', California supergroup A Perfect Circle's first album in 14 years, without at least a passing reference to its sleeve. Fronted by an Uncle Fester-esque character cradling an octopus, the ostentatious cover will trigger a gut response from anyone who grew up listening to angsty alternative rock in the early 2000s.

It's the kind of dramatic display of 'otherness' that would have resonated back then, a post-Manson/post-Mathers era when visibly representing your individuality, or rather the tribe with which you identified, was valued and romanticised. Depressingly, you can't help but feel it's an era that Maynard James Keenan, the group's frontman and lyricist, secretly still yearns for.

That might seem cheeky or mendacious given Keenan's pedigree – his introspective lyrical approach, well showcased with his long-running progressive rock project Tool, is generally commended for its depth.

But whereas his vented frustrations on previous records – particularly on A Perfect Circle's dense and dark 2000 debut 'Mer De Noms' – seemed radical or thought-provoking, this time around he comes across as petty, elitist and even outright dislikeable.

He reserves much of his wrath for society's perceived fixation with technology, patronisingly suggesting on Disillusioned that it's “time to put the silicon obsession down, take a look around, find a way in the silence”. But he concurrently critiques religious hypocrites who don't practice what they preach, suggesting Christians should “try walking like Jesus” on TalkTalk. It’s hilariously on-the-nose from a man who didn't want lyrics include lyrics in album sleeve notes because “people don't get it”.

Keenan's weird ideological blend of classical liberalism and Luddite misanthropy is at least provocative enough to distract from the uniformly tedious music on display. From the plodding gothic piano-driven title track that opens the record to the cheap reverb-laden Feathers, the album lack the adventure that Keenan's projects are generally recognised for.

Granted, this is a lighter proposition with less emphasis on breakneck riffs – although his accomplice Billy Howerdel does burst out some trademark guitar lines on the minor highlight Delicious – but that doesn't explain why it's so sonically dull. For example, where strings were used tastefully for embellishment on classic cuts like 3 Libras, here, especially on the empty By and Down the River, they simply use up space amid repetitive chord progressions and vaguely industrial drum patterns.

A Perfect Circle have admittedly tried to develop their sound somewhat, incorporating post-rock tones to build atmosphere throughout. The exception to this is the weird nu-metal throwback Hourglass, where Keenan channels Marilyn Manson more explicitly with flamboyant vocoder vocals that come across as satirical more than anything else.

But there's been no real progression over the past decade, either from Keenan in terms of philosophical musings or the band in terms of their overall musical palette. If anything, they've regressed on both counts, a worrying sign for the legions of Tool devotees still holding out for a big comeback.

A Perfect Circle Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue June 12 2018 - MANCHESTER O2 Apollo
Wed June 13 2018 - LONDON O2 Academy Brixton
Thu June 14 2018 - LONDON O2 Academy Brixton
Sun December 02 2018 - GLASGOW O2 Academy Glasgow
Mon December 03 2018 - MANCHESTER Victoria Warehouse
Wed December 05 2018 - LONDON SSE Arena, Wembley

Click here to compare & buy A Perfect Circle Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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