The Lowdown: Fourteen years after their last record together, Maynard James Keenan and Billy Howerdel of A Perfect Circle reunite for a record of bruised social criticism that continues the political streak started by 2004’s anti-war covers record, Emotive.
The Good: Instead of attempting to recapture the orchestral alt-rock that made the band famous, Eat the Elephant opts for a pensive collection of songs driven as much by Howerdel’s piano heroics as his facility with a guitar. The record also provides a cathartic outlet for Keenan’s more-direct-than-ever frustrations; whether targeted at feckless leaders (“TalkTalk”) or smartphone addicts (“Disillusioned”), his rage is righteous and powered by some of the prettiest pure singing of his entire catalog.
The Bad: Although they’re delivered in fine voice, many of Keenan’s cultural critiques come off as facile or heavy-handed. In particular, the reverse beatitudes of “The Doomed” feel like something pulled out of a sophomore-year composition book. Also, though the record’s mellowness is definitely one of its strengths, including at least one flat-out rocker would’ve been a welcome addition.
The Verdict: Essential for fans and sporadically thrilling for newcomers, Eat the Elephant is the kind of reunion record that most bands would kill for. While it doesn’t court the same kind of controversy as the band’s previous political statements, it rewards multiple listens enough to overcome the vast majority of its shortcomings. If you’ve ever been angry and tired of being angry at the same time, this one’s for you.
Essential Tracks: “Disillusioned”, “So Long and Thanks for All the Fish”, and “Get the Lead Out”