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A Perfect Circle Thirteenth Step

By Brian Davis, Contributor
Friday, November 21, 2003 @ 3:11 PM


(Virgin)

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The release of APC’s second album, Thirteenth Step, marks a significant departure for the band -- not only from previous band members, but from conventions and approaches set forth in Mer De Noms. The integration of a new bass player, in the form of Jeordie White, has proven to be a key element in the evolution and growth of the band’s sound. With Thirteenth Step, the bass serves as a cornerstone and driving element in the music, setting the tone and adding a more solid dimension than was displayed in the past. The other elements of the music also followed suit, specifically the evolution of Billy Howerdell’s guitar skills into a subtler yet more technical song structure, establishing a solid, moody background setting for Maynard James Keenan to present his formidable vocal range and emotional lyrical imagery.

As is the case with anything Maynard lends his exceptional skills to, Thirteenth Step is loaded with power, beauty and abundant metaphorical perspectives. The songs all share a common theme, presenting multiple perspectives on the ups and downs of drug addiction, hence the title Thirteenth Step. It’s nothing new to hear about the struggles of addiction, but certainly the band is the first to offer the effects of addiction from multiple angles. Maynard steps into the body of the addict, the eyes of the distant observer, and the heart of the concerned loved ones to brilliantly deliver all the pain, desire, need, weakness, helplessness and cynicism that constitutes each varying point of view.

Songs like “The Package,” “Weak & Powerless,” “Vanishing” and “Gravity” cover the spectrum of the anguished turmoil of an addict, ranging from deceitful desperation in “The Package” (“Lie to get what I came for, lie and smile to get what’s mine”), hopeless abandon in “Weak & Powerless” (“The devil has my ear today, I’ll never hear of what you say -- he promised I would find a little solace and some peace of mind. Whatever, just as long as I don’t feel so weak and powerless”), the irreplaceable euphoria of the high in “Vanishing” (Vanish into the air, slowly disappear, never really here”), and the struggle between resolve and temptation in “Gravity” (“Dizzy and clearly unable to just let this go -- I am surrendering to the gravity and the unknown-catch me, heal me, lift me back up to the sun -- I choose to live”).

Various other perspectives appear throughout the album as well, such as the hypocrisy of the addict-turned-Christian that pretends to be above the rest in “The Noose” (“With heaven’s help you cast your demons out… Recall the deeds as if they’re all someone else’s atrocious stories, your halo’s slipping down to choke you now”), the loved one in denial, unable to face the obvious in “Blue” (“I didn’t want to know, I just didn’t want to know -- Close my eyes just to look at you”), and the view of someone on the outside trying to fathom the appeal in “The Outsider” (“Help me if you can, it’s just that this is not the way I’m wired so would you please help me understand why you’re giving in to all these reckless, dark desires”). There is also the usual lyrical double entendre in “Pet,” a song that sound very much like a lullaby sung by a parent wanting to shield their child from harm (which coincidentally has Maynard’s son Devo performing some backing vocals), but also functions as a perspective from the drug itself, lulling the user to a false sense of security: “Pay no mind to what other voices say, they don't care about you, like I do. Safe from pain and truth and choice and other poison devils, See, they don't give a fuck about you, like I do.”

And of course, the album would not be complete without a little tongue-in-cheek humor, in this case presenting itself in the form of a cover song called “The Nurse Who Loved Me.” A beautiful song with a lilting, orchestral melody combined with lyrics that sound as if they were composed by Charles Manson on ecstasy, it creates a perfect picture of a heavily sedated lunatic sitting on the front porch of an asylum, drooling mindlessly and staring at the nurse’s ass, fantasizing about a non-existent romance. “She’s got everything I need, pharmacy keys, she’s falling hard for me, I can see it in her eyes. She acts just like a nurse for all the other guys.”

The usual brilliant performance by Maynard aside, this entire band is light years ahead of its previous incarnation. There’s a certain synchronicity and mood created in the music that melds to create a masterpiece of melody and emotion that wasn’t present on the previous album. Drifting listlessly from sultry and seductive to hard and driving, and even into the occasional trance-like musical mantra of songs like “Crimes” and “Lullaby,” the album abounds with varied emotion, both lyrical and musical. Unquestionably the best musical release of the year, A Perfect Circle extends their unique, emotional vibe to present multiple perspectives that any listener is bound to associate with in some manner. Certainly 13th Step is the logical 2nd Step in the evolution of this unique band, and representing as it does a sign of things to come, I believe this album leaves everyone anxiously anticipating the next Step.

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