In a perfect world, Eat the Elephant would resemble previously released tracks — such as “Judith” and “3 Libras” — that donned A Perfect Circle’s first album, Mer de Noms. Songs that are impassioned and vehement, but not lacking that fervent punch that Maynard James Keenan does so well. Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world. Keenan’s vocals are as powerful as ever on the April 20 release of Eat the Elephant, but the style he and Billy Howerdel approach it with is ever so slightly lacking. Ballad after ballad, A Perfect Circle’s latest album does hold a level of extreme depth, but much of the power behind these songs has been lost.
It has been 14 years since the last A Perfect Circle album, so having them back and releasing a 12-track, full length studio album is stellar for fans and the alternative rock community alike. Howerdel and Keenan have been friends for over 25 years, and bandmates for over 20. They’ve graced the music industry with style and fluidity, finding their niche in genres such as art metal, progressive rock, and alternative metal. As of late, their reformation is bending backwards a bit, leaning them more into the alternative rock category; as the fire that once set aflame among their old songs and records is no longer to be found — or at least, not as prominently as it once was.
Eat the Elephant‘s title-track opens this new record and it truly sets up the sound for the rest of the songs. It’s gloomy, mellow, piano-driven, and lyrically all over the place. The intertwining of nervousness and self-deprecation (“Ominous and daunting/Crippling undertaking/I’m frozen”) with the motivational-based chorus (“Just take the step/Just take the swing/Just take the bite/Just go all in”) leaves the listener wondering where the once evident fluidity of the group’s music has gone. The song is a lovely listen, but you can’t truly take it in without wondering what the message truly is.
“Feathers” falls on the latter end of Eat the Elephant and I wholeheartedly wish that I could have heard it before anything else. Personally, I found this blatantly alternative rock track to be the most reminiscent of prior albums of A Perfect Circle. It’s “Halo” meets “Vanishing” — as in some of Keenan’s best works as the vocalist of this super group. It could have been the heart and passion that I detected behind the lyrics, or the effortless and beautiful quality of the continuously emotionally draining lyrics, but I found a favorite in “Feathers.”
Overall, the album is supposed to be about tackling your personal “elephant” in the room and, essentially, eating it. In Keenan and Howerdel’s ideology, eating the elephant is simply overcoming your issues and fears so that you can start your life, be brave, and focus on what you truly want and can do. The concept is there, it just isn’t clear right off the bat. As a fan, I seem to be too caught up in the contemporary change to their style of music to actually take it all in. The story is being told, the vocals shine, and the production is stunning; it just doesn’t fully reflect the band that we all know and love. Fourteen years is quite a bit of time between albums and a lot has gone on behind the scenes since then — but through it all, A Perfect Circle was able to take on a new elegance in their approach and release new music…There really is not much more that can be asked of that.