It’s mighty considerate for a band to release a dense, complex grower of a record after 14 years away. It’s even crueler when Maynard James Keenan is involved, as he’s been teasing a new Tool record for ages. However, what Eat the Elephant lacks in immediacy, it more than makes up for in scope and power. As thoughtless as actually demanding the listener’s attention after such a significant period away (the nerve), A Perfect Circle’s comeback record really is a gem; it’s just a different stone than most of us were expecting. The group have applied an awful lot of force to this musical organic matter, resulting in a brilliant, shiny diamond.
Most notably, Eat the Elephant has much more in common, musically, with Anathema’s pensive prog rock than the heavy art rock of previous A Perfect Circle records. Aside from the bizarre end-of-the-world anthem, “So Long and Thanks for All the Fish” and the Depeche Mode-referencing “Hourglass”, the name of the game is musical suspense; songs list and sway on the strength of beautiful piano melodies (guitars take a surprising back seat throughout the record) and a bold and confident vocal performance from Keenan. Sure, his signature crooning aggression comes out to play on the venomous “TalkTalk” and the anti-Beatitudes ode “The Doomed”. Both tracks feel like bridges between the act’s past and present. They are haunting and aggressive numbers that contain enough of the thoughtful moodiness to satiate fans of A Perfect Circle’s past.
Also important is the introspective tone of Maynard’s lyrics. While Eat the Elephant contains its fair share of outward politically-conscious vitriol, a closer inspection to the whole reveals a preoccupation with making a positive difference in what short time we have on this planet. Sure, Keenan jabs at the hypocrisy of certain segments of the Religious Right, but even those go beyond the benign platitudes. “TalkTalk” and “The Doomed” seem more frustrated with those who say they care but refuse to do anything to improve anyone’s life. Even if you happen to disagree with some of the record’s sentiments, the political sentiments are much more expertly crafted than they were on the band’s covers record, eMOTIVe.
Eat the Elephant‘s biggest issue is also it’s best strength. The density and careful attention in the music’s creation makes for a slow-burn that requires multiple spins and actual attention. This grower also doesn’t get off on the best foot, as the lead-off title track is one of the weaker numbers. However, all’s well that ends well, and Eat the Elephant is a remarkable comeback record that isn’t exactly a return to form; it’s a reinvention that pulls what made the band noteworthy in the past (emotional art rock) into a new formula for the future.