Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Even If I Heard Mer De Noms First, A Perfect Circle Wouldn't Impress Me.

The Good: Generally comprehensive lyrics, Moments of instrumental accompaniment
The Bad: Short, Instrumental accompaniment is not incredible, Vocals are not impressive.
The Basics: A stiflingly average work, Mer De Noms by A Perfect Circle is a near miss for a recommend and is likely to disappoint fans of Maynard James Keenan.

Do you ever find yourself listening to something that others hail as a great or groundbreaking work and have a "meh" reaction to it? The more music I listen to, the more the supposed classics leave me unimpressed. One of the "classics" (I find it hard to use that term about an album that is not quite a decade old even) of metal rock, or at least one of the supposed groundbreaking albums of the genre is A Perfect Circle's debut album Mer De Noms. Mer De Noms means "Sea Of Names" and the album almost seems like a concept album by the way it has songs featuring biblical and literary characters like "Magdalena," "Judith," and "Sleeping Beauty."

But I found myself left unimpressed by Mer De Noms. The album, in addition to being short, sounds a lot like other works that Maynard James Keenan has been involved with. Unlike some of the Tool albums which sound genuinely original, though, A Perfect Circle's Mer De Noms sounds more generically like metal rock and it lacks a spark that makes some of Keenan's other works distinctive. So, while there is very little that is bad on Mer De Noms, there is also little that is extraordinary enough to enthusiastically recommend the album.

With a dozen songs occupying only 44:25, Mer De Noms is very much the musical vision of the band A Perfect Circle, at least as it was at its inception. All of the songs were written and composed by Maynard James Keenan and Billy Howerdel. Keenan provides all of the lead vocals and plays a gourd on at least one track. Howerdel plays guitars and was the album's producer. Josh Freese, Tim Alexander, and Paz Lenchantin rounded out the band for the debut on percussion, drums, and violins. The quintet creates a metal rock album that is rich in sound, but like many of Keenan's works, the vocals are not emphasized as much as the instrumental accompaniment.

As for that, the instrumental accompaniment is only slightly richer than that of the typical metal rock band. There is a lot of percussion and this is an album that is best listened to loud (or, I’m told, a band which is best listened to live). Mer De Noms, though has a repetitive guitar/bass accompaniment that lacks a zest or distinction to it that even some of the other A Perfect Circle works I’ve heard possess. Indeed, after twelve listens to this album, none of the tunes actually stand out for me.

More often than not, the instrumental accompaniment is overwhelmed by the presentation of the lyrics by Maynard James Keenan. On Mer De Noms, Keenan goes into the tenor range and stays there, using a sense of vocal strain to evoke more powerful emotional insinuations from the lines he is singing. And some of the lines stand out marvelously as a result. Unfortunately, though, the album has something of a “one trick pony” feel to it as Keenan presents all of the songs with a similar sense of emotional angst to them.

What made this otherwise indistinct, though darkly moody, album score so high with me were the lyrics. When I could make the lyrics out over the thrashing guitars and banging drums, the band has some pretty poignant things to say. Take, for example, “Magdalena,” which is a twisted love song with lines like “I’d sell my soul, / My self-esteem a dollar at a time / For one chance, one kiss, / One taste of you my Magdalena / I bear witness to this place, / This prayer, so long forgotten / So pure, so rare / To witness such an earthly goddess.” Keenan has a strong sense of the poetic and the biblical references enhance the idea that love and angst have a timeless connection.

That sense of angst is present on almost every track and it makes for some truly wonderful songs. The one that stood out the most for me was "3 Libras.” On that song, Keenan repeats the same phrase a lot and the repetition of “You don't see me” which climaxes in “You don't, you don't / You don't see me at all” ("3 Libras”) is surprisingly good. A Perfect Circle does have a way of taking some complex emotions and expressing them with beautifully simple angst.

But not all of the simple lines are the group’s best. “Brena” seems remarkably simplistic when Keenan sings “Show me lonely and / Show me openings to / Bring me closer to you / My dear Brena.” It’s almost like the song was either trying to be too specific (singing to one person) or so general that the sense of the universal is lost.

Either way, there was not quite enough for me to recommend Mer De Noms, even to those who like metal rock. It lacks the spark of Keenan’s other works and while some lines can be understood easily, the work isn’t as robust as others.

The best song is "3 Libras,” the low point is “Brena.”

For other works by Maynard James Keenan, please check out my reviews of:
Undertow - Tool
Aenima - Tool
10,000 Days – Tool
Thirteenth Step – A Perfect Circle
V Is For Vagina - Puscifer


For other album or singles reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

No comments:

Post a Comment