Virgin Records, 2003
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/27/2003
You can almost hear Maynard James Keenan's creative tank edge toward 'E' on A Perfect Circle's latest album. The guy has either been in the studio with A Perfect Circle or with Tool and touring to support each band since 1999. The results have so far been fantastic with Mer de Noms and Lateralus rescuing and moving hard rock and heavy metal into the new century.
Though APC has usually been more Billy Howerdel's project, it's hard not to bring Keenan to the forefront of the band, especially since he's the lead singer and especially since he has one of the most distinctive voices in rock. The band has always been a more melodic alternative to the abrasive and sometimes industrial tendencies of Tool. With Mer de Noms, the band was able to balance their obvious love for progressive rock with some truly tight songwriting and musical structure.
Unfortunately, Thirteenth Step is a step back for A Perfect Circle. The album limps out of the gate with three basic standard rockers. With "The Noose," APC takes another strike at religious hypocrisy, with Keenan singing, "Your halo slipping down." I'm all for exposing the flaws in any religion, but A Perfect Circle has done this already with the beautiful "Judith" and Tool has addressed it in almost all of their albums.
The band succumbs to the trappings of the worst tendencies of progressive art rock in songs like "The Nurse Who Loved Me," "Crimes" and "A Stranger." These songs plod along with sludgy guitar licks and pretentious lyrics. To add to the progressive rock clichés, Keenan keeps mentioning "my precious" in at least two songs on Thirteenth Step, forcing the listener to envision scenes from Lord of the Rings - another favorite topic for progressive rock and heavy metal bands.
The new additions to the lineup for Thirteenth Step include ex-Marilyn Manson member Jeordie Orsborne White (Twiggy Ramirez) and ex-Smashing Pumpkins member James Iha. On paper, it looks like a great addition, but throughout Thirteenth Step, it sounds like the band never quite gels. Only on "The Outsider" and "Lullaby" does APC sound like a cohesive unit.
Only on "Vanishing," The Outsider" and "Gravity" does Thirteenth Step sound the slightest bit fresh. The album does have some potential to grow on you if given a few spins. However, most of it remains a fairly humorless and droning affair. It's not a failure. It's not an album that will likely inspire outrage from fans because of a radical creative departure ala Liz Phair. It's almost worse; an album that leaves you feeling nothing at the end.