Triple review: A Perfect Circle – Three Sixty + Multimedia Pack

APC Three Sixty - Deluxe LZW PA

Reviews: Three Sixty (Standard Edition), 13 tracks; Three Sixty (Deluxe Edition), 2 CDs, 19 tracks; Release date: November 19, 2013; Label: Universal Music Enterprises (Ume).

Preview: A Perfect Circle Live: Featuring Stone And Echo, Concert DVD and audio + three live CDs; Release date: November 26, 2013; Label: Universal Music Enterprises (Ume).

A Perfect Circle presents us with a quandary. By releasing two editions of the “best of” collection as well as a full multimedia pack within the space of one week, they make it difficult to decide which of the three to choose. The answer to that question may depend on how much Perfect Circle you already have.

The band arrived in 1999 like the scent of orchids wafting in from a friendly forest. They entered a musical landscape where the older, popular types of metal were under enormous pressure from new sounds – the fuzz and whining of a gazillion West Coast grunge bands all trying to sound like Nirvana, and a horde of new-wave punk bands all trying to out-coarse each other.

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Spearheading A Perfect Circle were the two guys who are still the heart of the band. They both had hefty credentials and existing fan bases. Maynard James Keenan, one of the most accomplished and distinctive vocalists in modern music, had become a giant when he was with Tool. Billy Howerdel had reached the heights with Ashes Divide. It was small wonder that A Perfect Circle’s debut album, Mer de Noms, shot up the alternative and prog metal charts in 2000.

Critics and fans alike heaped acclaim on the band’s next two albums, Thirteenth Step (2003) and eMOTIVe (2004). Then… nothing. Not from the studio, anyway. The band hibernated. There were successful tours in 2010 and 2011, but still nothing really new.

So… why would one want a best-of compilation drawn from just three albums?

Let’s face it, nine years after the third album there must be any number of fans who have bits and pieces of A Perfect Circle scattered throughout their libraries. Old CDs get lost, stolen or broken. Three Sixty would be an excellent way to recover many good memories in a single package. The Standard Edition may be all that you need if you just want a good set of the band’s songs.

Of course this raises another issue. Best-of compilations always generate arguments: Why was that song included? Why was this one left out? I’m biased, so I venture to say that A Perfect Circle didn’t make any bad songs. The single CD is an hour of very pleasurable listening.

What’s more, both the Standard and Deluxe Editions include the one new song the band has recorded in the studio since 2004. It is By And Down. It has instantly become my favourite Perfect Circle song. Pardon the cliché, but Keenan and Howerdel have taken their music to new levels with this one. It elevates them above any debate about whether they’re an alternative or prog metal band. This is sublime prog metal, enormously musical, atmospheric and achingly melancholy. I can see this song winning over some heavy melancholy prog followers of bands like Porcupine Tree or Airbag. At the same time, it should greatly satisfy followers of A Perfect Circle as they know and love the band.

How about the Deluxe Edition? It adds some more songs from previous albums. More significantly, it includes four tracks from the band’s live performances, and they are exceptional.

Other than By And Down, the stand-out tracks for me are the studio version of 3 Libras on both the Standard and Deluxe Editions, because it was my favourite Perfect Circle song from back when. Wait, though, until you hear the live version of 3 Libras on the Deluxe Edition. For a start, it’s twice as long. Then there is so much more to it than on the studio version – much more great instrumental work, and a richness and resonance that perfectly capture the atmosphere of a well-executed concert hall performance. In one word… um… yummy!

It may seem a little extravagant to fork out for the Deluxe Edition just to get four live tracks. If so, keep your wallets closed for a week and go for the DVD-CD pack. The DVD is a compilation of live performances during 2010 and 2011. The three CDs are live versions of the band’s original three albums. Going by the live tracks on Three Sixty, this pack is going to be outstandingly good.

I have a message for A Perfect Circle: Guys, write an album’s worth of music like By And Down. You’ll have a large gang of prog metal people clamouring for it.

Now hear this!

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About ChristopherMammal

I've made it to Mammal. I still hope to be classified as Human one day. Meanwhile I have evolved enough to recognise different types of music as well as the shrieks of certain vervet monkeys who are known for their scurrilous behaviour in the proximity of unguarded bananas.

Posted on November 7, 2013, in Album Reviews and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Reblogged this on musicbugsandgender and commented:
    Keenan evinces a quality shared by many of rock’s most iconic frontmen, from Elvis to (Jon) Anderson to Rotten to Morrissey and on, in that his voice is utterly distinctive from the first note. It’s to his and the other writers’ credit, then, that APC avoid sounding like Tool clones whilst managing to grab a sizable portion of that band’s alt/prog rock audience.

    As ChristopherMammal says By And Down ‘…should greatly satisfy followers of APC…’ as well as temporarily assuaging Tool fans hungry for new material during that band’s extended hiatus. It’s a great track, and a timely reminder of just what a powerful and nuanced performer Maynard J is.

    Saying that… I gotta take issue with the ‘sublime prog metal’ tag. Well, not the sublime bit; but ‘prog metal’? For me, the refreshing thing about APC – as with Puscifer – was the way it showcased Keenan’s unmistakable vocal in a soundworld that was – and is – decidedly more accessible, closer to conventional pop/rock structure. In Tool, his voice is frequently as much an instrument in its own right; a haunting addition to the sonic palette as it is a conveyor of feeling and idea. In APC he’s all about the words. To me the band is very much what would have been considered alternative rock, before the crossover successes of bands including Nirvana, Oasis, REM and Metallica back in the ’90s made the term somewhat anachronistic. The line-up of nominees for the recent Mercury Award ceremony in the UK amply demonstrates just how far we’ve travelled down the road in blurring any distinction between ‘mainstream’ and ‘indie’/’alternative’/’underground’ these days.

    I don’t hear much prog OR metal in By And Down: what I DO hear is a pair of true artists who have honed their songwriting craft and taken it to the next level. I hear a mature, poignant, perfectly-paced rock ballad and none the worse for that. Sure, like CM I’d like to hear more, an album’s worth, even. But maybe that’s not possible… With both Tool and APC, Keenan and co. have maintained the quality precisely by pandering to their muses and keeping up the mystique; rather than joining to rock’n’roll gravy train and churning out sub-par albums every 18 months.

    Enjoy the song for what it is, and don’t hold your breath for the next Tool record either. That looks like being some time off too.

  2. ChristopherMammal

    Guls, thanks for your kind comments about my review. I defer to your opinion that By And Down is a superb rock ballad and doesn’t pretend to be more, or need to. I doubt if Keenan bothers to consider what label may be given to his music. As you’ve noted in your blog, music has evolved and expanded to the stage where boundaries between genres have become extremely blurred.

    None the less, if I were to compile an album of atmospheric, emotive, proggy songs, I’d want to put By And Down on it. This grand song moves me in the same way that my other selections of prog metal and heavy prog songs on my compilation album would:

    Steven Wilson – The Pin Drop
    The Pineapple Thief – The State We’re In
    Sieges Even – The Lonely Views Of Condors
    Votum – First Felt Pain
    Porcupine Tree – Trains
    Lunatic Soul – Suspended In Whiteness
    Textures – Reaching Home
    Airbag – Feeling Less
    Abigail’s Ghost – Waiting Room
    Blackfield – Open Mind

    (I know, Steven Wilson is on there in three guises.)

    Your observation that musicians like Keenan are moved by their muses, not by commercial pressure, is cogent and noteworthy. One of my favourite neo-prog bands, Änglagård, took 20 years to release its second album. They waited until the music felt exactly right. I don’t suppose I can bribe Keenan to sit down for six months and write new stuff. Dang.

    • Hi CM, just noticed this comment – no email notification, the ideosyncracies of wp – so apologies for my belated reply.

      I think we have a similar attitude to and appreciation for music; and, I venture, some overlap in our taste.Did you make it to Wilson’s Albert Hall gig? I didn’t (lack of funds, sadly) but I saw him a couple years back with Ibrahim on guitar and was captivated – if not exactly in love, musically. Love his attitude and ambition, just not everything he does. Likewise with Keenan and Tool, and really appreciate the extra sophistication and depth that such musicians bring even to less obviously-proggy songs; so I think I know what you’re saying artists who press my prog buttons…

      ,,,

  3. ChristopherMammal

    Hey, Guls.

    No, I didn’t go to the Albert Hall gig. It’s 6,000 miles away. I’m a Zululand boy.

    There are two world tours I want to do when I become rich by blackmailing the other writers on A Metal State Of Mind. First, a culinary tour of India, Sechuan, Turkey, Greece and Mexico. Then a year of going to concerts. I’ll have so much money that I’ll take a bunch of people. Wanna come? You’d better enjoy spicy food.

    We do have overlapping tastes. You and I are exceptionally broad-minded, receptive, charming and good looking. Steven Wilson would give us tickets to his concerts to improve the quality of the audience. I’d go to any of them except Blackfield, which is where the pop star in Wilson jumps on stage.

    Of the six songs you posted, only M People doesn’t get through to me — they never have. It’s too bouncy-bouncy.

    Underworld is new to me. It feels like Krautrock updated, a warm and comfortable synthesis of Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream. Everything Everything is, er, new to me, and thanks for the introduction. This is the sort of prog-flavoured indie music I like.

    I like Orbital because they have such a space rock flavour. Mansun is one of this bands that shouldn’t be shunted into a single genre. “Alternative rock” doesn’t do justice to the eclectic richness of their music. It limits their potential audience. The same true of Tool.

    The revelation to me was Morrissey. I hadn’t heard anything by him since he was with The Smiths. Wow, his solo stuff is good.

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