For those of you who can’t wait another second for the first new Tool album in about 750 years (approx.), I’ve got bad news for you. Eat the Elephant, the first new album since 2004’s eMotive from A Perfect Circle (AKA Maynard James Keenan’s other band, but not his other other band, Puscifer), sounds NOTHING like Tool. The expansive song structures and infectious tribal rhythms? Not here, folks. In their place you will find a subdued alt-rock album full of melody, both instrumentally and through Maynard’s surprisingly impressive voice. But if you consider this an alt-rock album more than a metal album (as I do), then it is easily one of the best alt-rock albums of 2018.
Musically, Eat the Elephant is a drastic departure from anything else I’ve ever heard in Maynard’s catalog. Even the two previous APC full-length albums, Mer de Noms and Thirteenth Step (I don’t really count eMotive since it was basically a covers album), had metal-ish sections that served as a musical bridge between A Perfect Circle and Tool (think “Judith” and “The Outsider”). These sections are almost completely absent on Eat the Elephant. Instead, the musical backbone of the album comes from a large amount of piano and some surprisingly uplifting and melodic guitar work. “So Long, and Thanks for the Fish”, one of the standout tracks on the album, sounds downright joyous even before you consider the heavier works in the band’s past.
But if it’s heaviness that you want, you won’t need to look any further than the CD insert (or whatever the millennial equivalent is) from some of the weightiest lyrics around. Another standout track, “Disillusioned”, could very well have been the title for the record, as that seems to be Maynard’s feeling towards America today if I’m reading it right (and he lays it on thick, so I don’t think I’m misreading). Be it the bleak outlook towards good people on “The Doomed” or the satirical tone of “So Long, and Thanks for the Fish”, Maynard paints a fantastically dark portrait of the world around him with his strongest lyrics to-date (and yes, I’m including all of Tool’s work in that as well).
Even more impressive than the lyrics, however, is Maynard’s voice. Never before, across any of his projects, have I heard Maynard allow himself to sound this good. Unburdened by needing to match the anger and aggression of Tool (and earlier APC), Maynard shows off a shockingly good voice on several tracks on Eat the Elephant (most notably “By and Down the River” and “Feathers”). While his voice has always skewed a bit more towards “melodic” than “violent guttural shrieks”, he’s always maintained a bit of a yell in his delivery that molds it into a more traditional rock/metal voice. But on Eat the Elephant, Maynard leaves behind those expectations behind and gives us a glimpse into just how talented of a vocalist he really is.
While not a perfect record (“TalkTalk” is a little too on-the-nose lyrically, and the final five tracks on the record all fall firmly into “meh” territory), Eat the Elephant is a wonderful listen if you can accept the non-metalness. Considering how highly Tool is regarded for the experimental nature of their music, Eat the Elephant may be the riskiest work of Maynard’s career, throwing away a proven blueprint for a wholly different sound. It won’t win over everyone, but no challenging work should. I have a feeling this grade will be rising as the year goes on.
“The Doomed”, “So Long, and Thanks for the Fish”, “By and Down the River”