A PERFECT CIRCLE – Thirteenth Step

A PERFECT CIRCLE - Thirteenth Step


Virgin Records
Release date: September 16, 2003

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A Perfect Circle is rightfully referred to as a super group on the basis of its impressive line-up drawn from various (in) famous acts. Originally formed by Tool vocalist Maynard James Keenan and Tool guitar tech Billy Howerdel sometime in the late nineties, the group today include the likes of bassist Jeordie Osbourne White (formerly known as Twiggy Ramirez of Marilyn Manson) and guitarist James Iha of legendary indie-rockers Smashing Pumpkins. The latter doesn’t actually appear on the album, but is included in the band’s live set-up. The whole project originally arose from Keenan’s need for a break after an exhausting legal battle with Tool’s former label, Freeworld Entertainment. After an agreement was finally reached, Keenan needed to re-focus and thus teamed up with the aforementioned Howerdel as well as Paz Lenchantin to form new outfit A Perfect Circle. They also recruited Troy Van Leeuwen on guitar and ex-Guns N’ Roses member Josh Freese on drums. Their first public appearance came at a benefit concert in Los Angeles in 1999, and their debut album, the critically acclaimed Mer de Noms, saw the light of day in May the following year.

Certainly not lacking in ambition, A Perfect Circle’s second outing is a rather complex affair. It’s a blend of prog-oriented rock and songs with a more straightforward structure that’s difficult to come to terms with upon the first couple of listens. But beware – this record is definitively a grower when some patience is applied. What at first glance seems like an inconsistent album stripped of memorable tunes, turns out quite a fascinating listening experience. It starts of with the long, unconvincing and frankly dull “The Package”, but is immediately followed by catchy first single “Weak and Powerless”. This signals the start of a string of strong songs accompanied by some very bleak and self-reflective lyrics. Song titles such as “The Noose”, “Blue”, “A Stranger” and “The Outsider” give an indication of the central themes occupying main songwriter Howerdel’s somewhat twisted mind. It’s all about loss and alienation, often wrapped up in a few, well-chosen words. Musically, these songs are all rich on detail and very accomplished. You can tell that the music is worked hard upon. This also goes for the competent production which has been taken care of by Howerdel and Keenan themselves, whereas the mixing is done by Andy Wallace. However, even the fact that this is a great-sounding, and thus seductive album, can’t disclose that there are some less than brilliant songs here, especially towards the end. This leaves me with the impression that “Thirteenth Step” is well worth investigating, not only if you’re a fan of Tool, but also if you’re into rock that challenges you as a listener, both musically and lyrically.

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