I’ve been a fan of A Perfect Circle since day dot when the angry chords of Judith first rang out ahead of the début record Mer de Noms, and Thirteenth Step’s seething emotions cemented my fandom a few years later. Now, with fifteen years passing since the band last released an album of new, original material, Billy Howerdel and Maynard James Keenan could have produced an album that gave fans just what we wanted – heavy guitars, propulsive rhythms, and angry lyrics – but they have done one better on their fourth album, Eat the Elephant, giving fans what they need.
A distinct vein of anger runs through the record, but where Mer de Noms and Thirteenth Step expressed this with hard-rock guttural aggression, Eat the Elephant follows the path laid out by 2004’s eMOTIVe, offering a more nuanced articulation of the group’s ire, relying on tone and lyrical content to arouse the listener. A dark, oppressive tone permeates the titular Eat the Elephant, which opens the album, setting the mood for the album with piano replacing the usual guitars at the sonic core of the track. An indictment of the cultural obsession with social media and technology follows on Disillusioned, with the song emerging out of Eat the Elephant thanks to a good cross-fade.
Lead single The Doomed dwells on society’s apparent inability to learn from history, no matter how recent, concluding that the poor, the peaceful, the meek, and the merciful are all doomed, with rampant individualism still the order of the day. TalkTalk takes aim at ‘thoughts and prayers’ platitudes trotted out by so-called leaders and virtue signallers, imploring those engaging in empty rhetoric to act. By and Down the River features a solid groove and a good bridge, but the song’s shift back to the chorus is jarring, and the instrumental interlude of DLB is pleasing but serves no real purpose in the broader context of the album.
Referencing The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, A Perfect Circle show that they are not without a sense of fun on So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, though the lamentations that inform the album are still present in the lyrics which also reference the passing in recent years of Carrie Fisher, Gene Wilder, Prince, and David Bowie. With dissonant and out of tune chord strikes on the piano, Get the Lead Out bookends Eat the Elephant nicely, ending the record on a strong note. While Eat the Elephant mightn’t be as aggressively energetic as fans may have wanted, it is a grower of an album, rewarding the listener more with each rehearing.