Album #8: A Perfect Circle, "Thirteenth Step" (2003)

I haven't forgotten about my old list of "top ten albums" - I've just been wondering exactly what to say about the #8 choice.  It's an album I've listened to over and over again, but it's one that I've heard so many times that I wonder if there's anything new to say about it.  But, finally, I just had to bite the bullet and get this series on with. 

A Perfect Circle was a "super group", formed in a time period when it seemed like forming "super groups" was the in-thing to do.  In a few short years, we were given bands like Audioslave, Velvet Revolver, and A Perfect Circle - fusions in the rock world that all seemed destined for short term greatness.  This particular super group was fronted by Maynard James Keenan, the lead singer for the metal group TOOL, and contained members from various low-key rock groups, as well as well-known guitar technician Billy Howerdel.

I had always figured APC's first album, "Mer De Noms", was a rather boring and flat set of recordings, lacking the musical depth and emotional range of a tool album - which is something I still believe.  However, after listening to the album on a midnight drive with a friend of mine, I started to hear a new side to the band - a sort of mainstream rock sound that also incorporated string work and a 1980's "New Wave" sound.  Without any of the crap that you would usually associate with new wave - there are no flocks of seagulls, and David Bowie won't be talking about any sort of China Girl.  The jury's still out on Devo, though. 

The problem with many fans' perception of APC stems from the frontman.  Too many people (myself included) imagined that any band fronted by Maynard James Keenan would be a "metal" band, and APC is anything but metal.  It's not even a lightweight metal - on the periodic table, I'd put it somewhere around Hydrogen - lightweight, lacking in complexity, but volatile and one spark away from exploding. 

"Thirteenth Step" was APC's second release, and, in my mind, the best of the three.  The entire album deals with the subject matter of addiction, through multiple perspectives.  It opens with the creepy drum-based song "The Package" - a whispered song about sex addiction and the lack of respect for both parties in such a relationship - and goes strong from there.  We've got songs like "Weak and Powerless" (a song that was generally well-received on the radio, though I find it to be one of the more flat songs on the album), an anthemic "blue", and the brilliant "The Outsider".

My favourite track on the album is "The Noose", which does that trick I love so well:  constantly layering tracks on to a repeating section of the song, modifying instruments and rhythms slightly as the song carries on.  The repeated chorus ("And I'm more than just a little curious/how you're planning to go about making your amends/to the dead") is one that always gets stuck in my head, and the main idea of the song - that an addict who has cleaned his act should not necessarily be absolved of crimes committed while using - is just brilliant.  And the last lines of the song ("your halo is slipping down to choke you now") is about as awesome as last lines can get. 

But this isn't just an album of hard core rock.  Listen to the creepy cover of "The Nurse Who Loved Me", which is funny, poetic, and offbeat, or the pretty guitar work in "Gravity" (I really believe they made a mistake in putting some of those heavier parts in the song).  Really, the album shines when it's soft, not when it's hard.  If you want hard, listen to Tool. 

I love this album to the point where I actually have a copy of the vinyl hanging on the wall, right next to my imitation les paul guitar.  It is also, for those who are curious, the youngest album on my top ten list, and one of a very few that were released in the last decade.  Yes, it belongs on the same list as The Who, Led Zeppelin, and the others to come.  Will people remember it in two decades?  I don't know.  But they probably should

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