A Perfect Circle – Mer de Noms

A Perfect Circle
Mer de Noms

Once, there was a boy. For the sake of this review (and because that’s his name), we shall call this boy Billy. Now Billy really liked guitars. He liked guitars so much, that he became a gothy little guitar-tech for some pretty major touring acts (Tool, NIN). Being around all of these musician-types made little Billy want to write his own music. And write his own music he did! Over the course of the last 10 years or so, Billy Howerdel self-recorded instrumental tracks with hopes that he might one day find a band to play them. Well, his band quickly materialized when Maynard James Keenan, Tool’s incredible vocalist, offered to sing the tracks for Billy. The duo quickly brought together three other musicians who hardly play on the album, and as Tool fans let out a collective groan (it’s already been four years since the last Tool album, 1996s AEnima), the group (now called A Perfect Circle) snagged the opening slot on NIN’s North American tour.
Everyone connected to this band will testify that this is Howerdel’s show, and though he did compose almost all of the music for this album, it’s apparent that the focus is (deservedly) on Keenan and his incredible, soaring voice. The album opens with arguably its best track (isn’t that annoying?), “The Hollow.” The track’s a bit scary, as some of its effects suggest that it might deviate into a techno dirge, but when Keenan soars into the second verse with “Cause It’s time to bring the fire down/I don’t want this indescretion” the guitars swirl up behind him, and the drama sets in. That’s Keenan’s appeal: whispering or soaring (and if you’ve never heard him sing, he really does SOAR), his constant search for a revelation or a transformation always heightens the importance of the music. Keenan’s ample talents are displayed not only in his voice but in his melodies: many of these tracks were obviously meant as instrumentals (perhaps for a film), and the fact that Keenan has taken them and fit them with melodies that not only fit but that are also good is incredible.
The next two tracks, “Magdalena” and “Rose,” are standard fare for this band: multi-tracked guitar parts woven into keyboard/synthesizer effects, all dwarfed by Keenan’s angelic vox. The fourth track, “Judith,” is the roughest, most “Tool-like” song on the album (and therefore the single). Keenan spends the song contemplating religion, with lines like “you pray to Jesus Christ as if he knows the reason why.” Don’t worry though, Maynard’s too intelligent to let the song stray into any sort of teen defiance anthem (though its a shame so many kids will interpret the song like that). “Orestas” follows, and its one of the better songs, building until voices and guitars swirl together for another dramatic moment. “3 Libras” is one of the softer songs, but it finds Keenan repeating “You don’t see me” in such a sincere tone that you BELIEVE him. “Thomas and “Thinking of You” are two heavier tracks, and despite being strong, they’re not this band’s best work. “Brena” is the last actual song, a brooding, chaotic, slower number that once again finds Keenan’s voice overshadowing Howerdel’s well-thought out instrumentals (even if they are a bit standard).
To paraphrase Keenan, Tool fans have always been a bit higher on the feeding chain than most metal fans. Though he’s right, I’m worried that this band (while not as good as Tool, substantially better than almost anything out there being called “metal”) will be sold to the same kids who think Limp Bizkit is a breakthrough artist. Those kids who are still wondering why New Order covered that Orgy song. That’s really too bad, because this band is too smart, too good for those kids. Keenan has always tried to elevate metal to something accessible, but intelligent. For the most part, he succeeds. This is metal for fans of Radiohead, Sunny Day Real Estate and Fugazi (don’t get me wrong, they’re not nearly as good as any of those bands, but they elevate their genre to a similar level of excellence). Keenan’s voice is incredible, and this will serve as both fodder for hungry Tool fans and an impressive introduction to Keenan’s voice (which ranks, by the way, as one of best in ANY genre). Just please ignore all those kids with goatees and socks on their head buying this – its not the band’s fault.