Written by Xavier Cattarinich
Eat The Elephant
So Long, and Thanks For All The Fish
By & Down The River
Get The Lead Out
Release Date: April 20, 2018
Maynard James Keenan - Vocals Billy Howerdel - Lead guitar, keyboards, backing vocals James Iha - Rhythm guitar & keyboards
Matt McJunkins - Bass & backing vocals Jeff Friedl - Drums
I couldn’t help but smile when my iTunes library attributed “genre unknown” to Eat The Elephant. As one would expect from APC, the record certainly isn’t your typical rock album (it definitely isn’t heavy metal), and I’ll confess that I myself get annoyed with the proliferation of narrow and wholly inadequate labels that are applied to bands across the musical spectrum. So genre unknown it is. That said, Eat The Elephant is a sonic and lyrical masterpiece that proves that neither Keenan nor collaborator/guitarist Billy Howerdel are anywhere near the bottom of the well of creativity. Listeners will find therein a multi-textured audio palette that includes delicate piano, as well as avant-garde pop/rock that is at times sarcastically upbeat (“So Long, and Thanks For All The Fish”, “Delicious”, “Hourglass”), but mostly melancholic and meditative.
Keenan has long been recognized as a word-smithing and melody-crafting genius, and those strengths are evident throughout Eat The Elephant. I can’t think of another album that so accurately captures my own disillusioned view of the world and the zeitgeist of current times, in non-partisan fashion to boot. Keenan’s compelling vocals come through so clearly, exuding so much emotion, sensitivity and vulnerability along with wisdom, that I feel as though he’s in the room addressing me personally.
The title track acknowledges the despair so many feel today in the face of the overwhelming and escalating socio-political, economic, environmental, and spiritual crises touched upon throughout the remainder of the album. What can individuals do in the face of such adversity?
This task ahead
This task at hand
Ominous and daunting
Crippling undertaking, I’m frozen
Where to begin eludes me
Without you to remind me
The task ahead is the huge, unhappy elephant in the room, and we’re paralyzed in its presence. How to deal with it? The answer is simple:
Just take the stab
Just take the swing
Just take the bite
Just go all in
Although I dislike the chosen metaphor, its point is well taken. You eat the proverbial elephant by taking one bite from it at a time, as you would with any daunting task. Impeding the leap from thought to action is our social conditioning and technological addiction. According to the second track, “Disillusioned,” that technological addiction disconnects people from the natural world and from one another (the paradox of “social” media). Our disillusionment and shortened attention spans keep us subservient and docile, constantly searching for the next shiny distraction to drown out our despair.
We have been overrun by our animal desire
Addicts of the immediate keep us obedient and unaware
Feeding this mutation, this Pavlovian despair
So we run
Towards anything glimmering
Keenan urges his listeners to “put the silicon obsession down,” to “dis- and re-connect to the resonance now”, reminding them that they “were never an island.” Of course, the irony wasn’t lost on me that I was writing this review in isolation in my basement office, listening to an album downloaded onto my computer, and that APC’s message wouldn’t reach many of their fans if not for the silicon obsession. Likewise, their record label most certainly would not want fans to disconnect from their various online marketing channels.
“The Doomed” turns Christ’s Sermon on the Mount on its head, lamenting the fate of the poor, the peaceful, the meek, and the merciful. They are all doomed now, rages Keenan:
For the word is now death
And the word is now without light
The new beatitude:
“Fuck the doomed, you’re on your own!”
The song also proclaims the mantra of our era in bleak, yet all too accurate Orwellian fashion: “Blessed are the fornicates / May we bend down to be their whores / Blessed are the rich / May we deliver, deliver them more.” That’s pretty much the way it is, isn’t it?
“The Contrarian” takes aim at an unnamed politician whose “Core is black as pitch / Soul is out of tune / Advocate of none,” and who shows nothing but “Contempt for everyone.” Oh, in case you still haven’t figured it out, “hello, hello, he lied.” Yes, it’s quite plausible that the contrarian in question is none other than President Trump, but that would be far too limited an interpretation. Given the way that “Hourglass” criticizes everyone from Aristocrats, to Democrats, to Oligarchs, to Republicrats for barbecuing and then consuming the planet’s sentinels—the Tokyo Kitty, swallow, rose and canary—it’s evident that no one is immune from Keenan’s judgement. Indeed, there is no shortage of blame to pass around for the current state of America, and of the entire world. Self-interest, greed and political ideology have reached such monolithic levels of polarization as to completely shutdown the goodwill and collaboration required to move forward and repair the damage done.
Eat The Elephant also tackles other weighty subjects, like religious hypocrisy and the platitudes repeatedly offered in the wake of recurring mass shootings in the U.S. (“TalkTalk”):
We’re bleeding out
Like cake in a crisis
We’re bleeding out
While you deliberate
On the penultimate track, “Feathers,” Keenan hopes that by sharing the “Weight of words and wars we carried,” our burdens will all become lighter, like feathers. Closing number “Get The Lead Out” brings the album full circle, gently nudging the listener to get past the chit-chat, because “We got places to be / We got mountains to climb / Shape the rainbow with me / Only so much time.”
The lyrics on Eat The Elephant are much more straightforward than on A Perfect Circle’s first two recordings, not to mention on Tool albums. I suspect that’s by design, so that Keenan’s urgent plea can reach the most people possible without getting lost in transmission, in an era when technology and social media minimize attention spans, dumb down the public, and neuter both critical thought and meaningful discourse. If anything, the accessibility of the lyrics, the soulful vocals and Keenan’s distinctive phrasings enhance the impact of Eat The Elephant. All three elements articulate his frustration with far more nuance and emotional range than Al Jourgensen could manage on Ministry’s most recent critique of the new world order, AmeriKKKant (2018).
The generally spacious, yet sufficiently diverse musical arrangements and moods captured on the album prove yet again that APC knows no bounds. Every note, every beat, is a nigh perfect complement to Eat The Elephant’s thematic and lyrical depth. The ensuing result is a compelling release that stands apart from Mer de noms (2000), Thirteenth Step (2003), and eMOTIVe (2004). If anything, it’s an endeavour that absolutely everyone should take to heart… but that would be asking too much, wouldn’t it? The real question, then, is: how will I take up Keenan’s challenge? And what about you? Will you start eating the elephant?
Final Rating: 9/10