In light of the current political climate, A Perfect Circle's Maynard James Keenan couldn't keep to himself any longer. But instead of expressing his outrage by writing a new album, the famously reclusive singer opted to put his stamp on other songwriters' sentiments.
Ten of the 12 songs on APC's third album, eMOTIVe, are covers, and they range from recognizable to relatively obscure. The familiarity that resonates in John Lennon's "Imagine," Nick Lowe's "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," and Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" allows the listener to forgo concentrating too hard on the lyrics. Instead, the words they already know by heart take on updated meanings when juxtaposed with new, and oftentimes harrowing, backdrops.
"Imagine," which serves as the album's first single, is hardly the delicate, happy-faced ode to utopia the former Beatle envisioned in 1971. Instead, eerie piano chords plod along dirgelike until a stark violin is abruptly introduced to emphasize the desperation inherent in having hope whittled down to its last thread. "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," an angry pop-punk rave-up as performed most popularly by Elvis Costello, instead comes across as a helpless plea thanks to guitarist Billy Howerdel's high-pitched delivery. "What's Going On," which features layered synths and an angelic Keenan-Howerdel harmony, is another pleading call for help that seems to be sung from a disembodied, third-person standpoint instead of the vital wake-up call that was Gaye's original.
Soaring, whining rock guitars, offset by a low-end fuzz, provide anthemic lift to Devo's "Freedom of Choice," which comes off as a pro-vote rally cry. Tolerance is preached through Depeche Mode's "People Are People," where the teetering sound of an alarm stresses its urgency. Black Flag's "Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie" tackles the topic of greed from the standpoint of an insatiable beast that doesn't know why it wants more, it just does. And should anyone or anything stand in its way ... we have bombs for that.
"Let's Have a War," a 1982 Fear song, seemingly takes a cynical view of the Iraq conflict. "Let's have a war/ So you can go and die/ ... We can all use the money," Keenan deadpans above a skittering techno beat. And in "When the Levee Breaks," Led Zeppelin's famous cover of a Memphis Minnie blues song, a soft, piano-and-bass entwinement renders Keenan's ethereal vocals nearly indecipherable, save for the chorus: "When the levee breaks, you'll have no place to hide." It comes off less as a threat than an omen.
Prefacing it all is a whispered recitation of "Annihilation" by early '80s punk band Crucifix, setting the tone for what follows with frightening effect: "Reject the system dictating the norms/ From dehumanization to arms production to hasten this nation towards its destruction," Keenan says in a hushed tone. "It's your choice: peace or annihilation."
The two new songs on eMOTIVe, "Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums" and "Passive," both extol the dangers of complacency. Where the former is an a industrial-rock march backed by an ominous bass line sung from the standpoint of a heartless dictator; in the latter Keenan expresses his angry disappointment at those who sit idly by and let the bad guys win.
eMOTIVe hits stores on Election Day, November 2.