Thirteenth Step – A Perfect Circle
Blog Entry #1
I have a very eclectic musical taste. I literally love music and I am drawn to anything that “sounds good” to my ears. For that reason, it has always been hard for me to narrow my taste down to liking one musical act. So, instead of choosing to write about my favorite musician, I have decided to write about one of my favorite albums.
I define a “favorite album” as one that I can listen to from the first song to the last, and be completely engaged with the music, loving each song I hear. One such album for me is Thirteenth Step by a band called A Perfect Circle. For starters, the album is very unique in that it has a dual nature that I find to be rare of many albums (and artists) — I feel it is an album that can thoroughly be enjoyed when one is feeling down or completely energetic and full of life. The entire album does have a somber feel; very melodic and soft. Yet, it manages to be hard enough to rock out to and give you energy as well. I also feel that the album manages to focus on the beauty of vocals while still staying true to its genre and allowing the instruments to have their rightful acknowledgement in each song. There are often small periods within each song where you can hear (and feel) the heavy rifts. But they never drown out the voice of the lead singer, Maynard James Keenan. Keenan also fronts another band I am fond of — Tool. That band has a much hard and heavier vibe, thus it is evident in all of A Perfect Circle‘s work that with this project, Keenan was able to showcase more of his vocal talent…basically he didn’t have to scream as much as he did with Tool.
In my personal opinion, there also appears to have been a lot of thought put into the arrangement of the album. Although this should be the case within music in general, I do not always get the impression that all musicians put much effort into the arrangement. Thirteenth Step begins with soft and audible vocals that sound a bit mischievous, and by the end of the first track, the listener is taken aback by heavy turn the song has taken. From there, your ears are kept in suspense, not knowing if Keenan will want to take out aggression or sing melodically on the coming track, yet this up and down nature doesn’t feel bipolar at all. Every song seems to work together and they all blend beautifully into each other.
I believe there are two types of second albums — either the second release by a musician or group just doesn’t hold up to the magic that they were able to create the first time, or, in contrast, the second release is a polished version showcasing what they can really do, and the first release was just the warm up. In the case of Thirteenth Step, I would say this album falls into the latter category by far. If I absolutely had to pick any standout tracks, I would say my “top three” would be: Weak and Powerless, Blue, and Gravity, but really — there isn’t a bad song on the album. Here are some links to two of these tracks, as well as a brief descriptors as to why I feel they are standouts.
- Weak and Powerless: As the first single off of the album, Weak and Powerless is firstly a catchy track. The melodic beat and equally soft and melodic voice of Keenan shines through and stands out. But on a deeper level, the song deals with personal demons such as addiction in a pretty symbolic way. When I first heard the track, I assumed it had to deal with the loss of a relationship, however upon further research, I found it had to do with dealing with addiction, although a relationship with drugs and a significant other can definitely have some overlap. Some of the lyrics seem to make no sense until you view them through the lens of someone who is addicted to drugs. “Someone feed the dragon while I did in search of China, white as Dracula a I approach the bottom.” (feeding the addiction and approaching the bottom of a high perhaps?) “desperate and ravenous, so weak and powerless over you…” (How the addiction leaves him feeling and the lack of power he seems to have over it.)
2. Blue: Although I am not quite sure what Keenan and Howerdel’s inspiration was behind the lyrics of this song, again, the musical arrangement of the song alone gives it a plus. Then, when delving deeper into the meaning behind the song, I have always personally viewed it as a song of denial, or what it is like to deal with someone who is constantly in denial of something. The beginning lyrics somewhat solidify this theory: “I didn’t want to know, I just didn’t want to know, Best to keep things in the shallow end, ‘Cause I never quite learned how to swim.” In addition, the constant repitition of the lyrics “ignore the smoke” translate to ignoring the warning signs of something. Lastly, the extremely dope chorus puts some playfulness into the idea of being ignorant with the lines: “Call it aftermath, she’s turning blue, Such a lovely color for you.” Whereas turning blue is usually indicative of someone dying or suffocating, instead this genius comments on how the person “looks beautiful” and not in distress. Again, this has always been my personal interpretation of the song, however that is the beautiful thing about the album as well, the lyrics are ambiguous enough that they can mean anything to someone who is listening. Some may view this is bad, or disorganized, but I think it is actually quite genius.