Friday, November 18, 2016
A Perfect Circle -- Thirteenth Step
Music criticism should be objective, yet the appreciation of music is completely subjective. That's the oxymoron of an album review. With that said, if you can't give out a perfect score from time-to-time, you probably shouldn't be writing music reviews. I'm sure there are those who think I hand out too many of them, but I am reviewing my own music collection here, which is largely composed of stuff I bought because I like it. The negative reviews I write are generally toward a long--time favorite band who has put out a dud, or from when I've blindly picked up an album based on hype (*cough* Animal Collective *cough, cough, cough*), and absolutely loathed it.
My tastes haven't changed a huge amount in the nearly two decades since I turned seventeen, but anytime I come to an album I adored ten-plus years ago, I wonder if it won't currently have the same impact. This review is brought to you by italics. Italics: The accentuate choice. Italics.
When A Perfect Circle's sophomore effort, Thirteenth Step, was released, I was discouraged by reviews that decried it as too soft and esoteric compared to the band's debut. Not only that, but I saw that early 00's Nicsperiment love interest, Paz Lenchantin, was not heavily involved in the album, only contributing violin to the final song.
However, with that said...
This review is also brought to you by "with that said..." With that said: When you've said something...and now you want to say something else. With that said.
With that said, the album's lead single, "Weak and Powerless," drove itself into my ear like the slug on the above album cover. I couldn't get it out, and finally, on a mystical foggy winter drive home from work, I caved and bought the album, and an un-scented candle because I was trippy like that. So speaking of trippy, Thirteenth Step...
Nothing really sounds like this album, and to me, that is always a virtue, unless an album sounds like a frog being bludgeoned to death...though actually, that would mean it sounds like something.
This review is also brought to you by "Frogs being bludgeoned to death." Frogs being bludgeoned to death: when you need a clumsy and shocking comparison to distract attention away from your lazy writing, try "Frogs being bludgeoned to death." Frogs being bludgeoned to death.
Thirteenth Step does indeed feature a more gentle sound than A Perfect Circle's debut, Mer de Noms...but I wouldn't call it soft. The album deals with addiction in its many forms, and the music, while not completely abandoning its hard rock base, is filled with atmosphere. The opening track is nearly eight minutes long, with quiet electric guitar building with muted drum toms and rim shots, vocalist, Maynard James Keenan's whispered vocals, and a thick line by new bassist, Jeordie White. The catharsis does come though, as a crunchy distorted riff finally smashes into the calm, with crashing cymbals and snare from returning all-star drummer, Josh Freeze, and Keenan becoming snarlingly aggressive.
From here on out, the band maintains a perfect quiet-to-loud dynamic, along with a haunting, early-morning atmosphere thicker than any featured on just about any Number Two charting modern rock album ever released (not that kind of "number two").
Keenan's insistence on the band focusing on atmosphere instead of aggression, along with the depth of his lyrics, pushes Thirteenth Step well into "classic" territory, as his wishes and themes match flawlessly with guitarist Billy Howerdel's abilities as a musician and songwriter (Keenan and Howerdel also produced the album, with "executive" by the former's name in the credits). Meanwhile, the rhythm section is in such perfect sync with each other, and with what Keenan and Howerdel are doing, it's hard to imagine any other bassist and drummer duo doing a better job.
On top of everything, the album is sequenced perfectly, starting out in a fog, and rising and falling above it so naturally that the cathartic closer, "Gravity" feels like a revelation--its chorus, "I am surrendering to gravity and the unknown/catch me, heal me/lift me back up to the sun," a mantra.
Thirteenth Step is a brilliant, vastly underrated album...and unfortunately, at 13 years old(!), the last full-length recording of original material A Perfect Circle have released.
Here is one of the most powerful songs I have heard.
1. The Package 7:40
2. Weak and Powerless 3:15
3. The Noose 4:53
4. Blue 4:13
5. Vanishing 4:51
6. A Stranger 3:12
7. The Outsider 4:06
8. Crimes 2:34
9. The Nurse Who Loved Me 4:04
10. Pet 4:34
11. Lullaby 2:01
12. Gravity 5:08