Looking Back on: A Perfect Circle, Thirteenth Step

CD Review: A Perfect Circle, Thirteenth Step.
Genre: Experimental Rock.
(This was originally reviewed for YHCOR, and if I’m being honest, I completely forgot that we diversified a bit and started including music reviews, book reviews, and all kinds of other crazy stuff. Joel did a series on horror directors at one point for example. It sucks too, because if I’d had any kind of real motivation or knowledge of how to do internet marketing at 25 I might have actually been able to make a go of YHCOR, since the market was still fairly wide open and we were apparently actually doing okay for ourselves. I mean “Your Hot Cup of Rant” isn’t really any worse than “Videogum” or “Warming Glow” as site titles go. Oh well, hindsight and all that.)

Ah, yes, Maynard James Keenan. You’d most likely know him as the lead singer of Tool, as that’s what he’s best known for, but he’s also the lead singer for A Perfect Circle, which is something of a side project for him. Okay, technically it’s Billy Howerdel’s band, but it might as well be Maynard’s band, because he’s the one selling the CD here. (That’s not entirely inaccurate; basically Howerdel made friends with Keenan while working as a guitar tech for Tool, and Keenan offered his services as a vocalist to Howerdel, boom, APC. Though these days Maynard kind of exists as an entity unto himself, given that he’s had success with Tool, APC and his own band Puscifer, and that Tool hasn’t seen a release in nearly a decade at this point.)

Anyway, this is the second A Perfect Circle CD, and I had high hopes going into this effort, as it provided a strong alternative to Tool’s offerings as of late. See, Tool is a great band when they make good music, because their good music is really good. But they seem to have a penchant for going off on odd tangents, making songs that make no sense, and offering one or two great tracks surrounded by a bunch of oddball work and some filler. And, on a personal note, for someone that has much money as Maynard does, he sure does bitch about God a lot. (Yeah, Maynard is really big on involved, complex lyrics that push the listener to think for themselves, and a lot of that ends up being “boo God” though it’s meant more as “lift up yourself” in essence. I still find their last two records to be overly experimental and hard to listen to but I get why the band does this these days, at least.)

A Perfect Circle, on the other hand, was simple, solid rock music that relied on quality music and Maynard’s powerful vocals to sell the listener on it, and it worked. I mean, sure, Maynard’s still bitching about God, but if you can overlook that, it was a great piece of work, plain and simple. (Well he does write the lyrics, so he’s going to get that option.)

So, yeah, I was looking forward to Thirteenth Step. But I was looking forward to Tool’s fourth CD, Lateralus, and that was a mess, so oh well. (I’ve since upgraded my opinion of the record from “a mess” to “experimental on a level that I have to be in a specific mood to listen to, which isn’t often.” Funny what a bunch of years of perspective and weird music will do to change your perspective.)

Now, on to 13th Step. (I’m not writing it out anymore. Sorry). Well, the music is still solid, and the vocals are still powerful… for about a quarter of the CD. Maynard still shows he has damn fine talents on songs like “Weak and Powerless”, “Blue”, and “The Outsider”, and the music is also incredibly powerful in each song, so I can honestly say that there’s something to like here, whether you liked the first CD, like Tool, or just like good hard rock.

But then, for reasons I can’t even begin to comprehend, the CD goes off into an experimental direction that not only baffles me as a listener, but irritates me as a Perfect Circle fan. As a Tool fan, I’m used to it, so I’m just surprised that he didn’t pull this on the first CD. (I’ve since discovered that Maynard, as a lyricist, tends to just wait for the music to be finished, then writes things over top of the completed work based on what it says to him, though since 13th Step was a concept project it might go either way.)

“The Package” is a very slow song that that suddenly becomes very distorted and heavy about four minutes in, for absolutely no reason, then reverts near the end, again, for no reason. “The Noose” is slow and doesn’t really go anywhere, but it’s consistent, at least. “A Stranger” is a very slow acoustic rock track that, while solid, has no business being on the CD, and I swear I think he says “fuck tomato” at one point in it (the website doesn’t have the lyrics on it for some reason). “Crimes” is a weird instrumental that features someone COUNTING in the background. And “The Nurse Who Loved Me” is just incredibly bizarre, both because of it being the way that it is, and because of who’s performing it. (The record, I’ve since discovered, was a concept project about addiction, hence the title, and while that doesn’t change my opinion of the record any, about a decade spent sitting on the record does; it’s better than I remembered, as one might expect, and “The Noose” and “A Stranger” end up better for the time spent away from them. “The Nurse Who Loved Me” is still super weird though.)

So, to be perfectly honest, I really wanted to like this CD, I truly did, but I couldn’t appreciate it in any possible respect. The inner music fan thought that the CD jumped around entirely too much to be worthwhile, and couldn’t appreciate what was presented enough to like the package. (To be fair, it does jump back and forth a lot, and that doesn’t do the record a lot of favors, concept project or no.) The inner A Perfect Circle fan thought this was a serious step down from the first effort, and isn’t looking forward to the next album. (Well since there may not be one at least that’s not a thing to worry about.) And the inner Tool fan felt that three songs, no matter how good, isn’t worth the money for nine tracks of typical Tool bullshit, no matter what name it’s produced under. (Considering that Tool’s last record had a DIY song where you assembled three songs into one, no, this isn’t even close to a Tool record.)

In short, I really can’t recommend purchasing this CD, and to be fair, I’d have to recommend avoiding it. It might not be what I wanted to do, but then, I didn’t want to drop out of college either, but I didn’t really have a choice. And, unlike that decision, I don’t regret saying don’t buy this CD, so I think it’s a fair trade off. (Almost a decade later, I’m working on my first of two planned Masters Degrees, and I think Thirteenth Step is pretty decent, if an acquired taste, so while “regret” is strong, I can safely say that we can all grow and change as people, even if I still don’t like mushrooms or Funny Games.)

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