A PERFECT CIRCLE - Emotive (Virgin Records CDVUS257, 2004)
A Perfect Circle is an American rock supergroup formed in 1999 by guitarist Billy Howerdel and Tool vocalist Maynard James Keenan. A Perfect Circle has released four studio albums, the first three releasing in the early 2000s: "Mer de Noms", their debut album in 2000, and followed up by "Thirteenth Step" in 2003; then in 2004, "Emotive", an album of radically re-worked cover songs titles. Shortly after Emotive's release, the band went on hiatus; Keenan returned to Tool and started up solo work under the band name Puscifer; and Howerdel released a solo album, "Keep Telling Myself It's Alright", under the moniker Ashes Divide. Band activity was sporadic in the following years; the band reformed in 2010, and played live shows on and off between 2010 and 2013, but fell into inactivity after the release of their greatest hits album, "Three Sixty", and a live album box set, "A Perfect Circle Live: Featuring Stone and Echo" in late 2013. The band reformed in 2017 to record a fourth album, "Eat the Elephant", which was released on April 20, 2018.
Prone to downtime due to Keenan's other musical commitments, the band has featured a variety of musicians in the other roles throughout its alternating periods of activity and inactivity. The original incarnation of the band included Paz Lenchantin on bass, Troy Van Leeuwen on guitar, and Josh Freese on drums. Primus drummer Tim Alexander had briefly stood in as a drummer prior to Freese in the band's initial live shows, however this was prior to releasing any material. Band collaborator and producer Danny Lohner and Marilyn Manson bassist Jeordie White were also members for a short period in the early 2000s. The band's current lineup features Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha, bassist Matt McJunkins, and drummer Jeff Friedl, the latter two also being contributors to the related Puscifer and Ashes Divide projects. Despite the varied cast and numerous lineup changes, the stylistic content of A Perfect Circle's songs has remained consistent with Howerdel as music composer, and Keenan writing lyrics and vocal melodies. The band's studio albums have been generally well received critically and commercially, with their three studio albums selling 4 million copies collectively as of 2005.
A Perfect Circle was originally conceived by Billy Howerdel, a former guitar technician for Nine Inch Nails, The Smashing Pumpkins, Fishbone and Tool. Howerdel met singer Maynard James Keenan in 1992, when Tool was opening for Fishbone, and the two became friends. Three years later, Keenan offered Howerdel, who was looking for lodging, a room in his North Hollywood home. This provided Howerdel the opportunity to play demos of his music for Keenan. Pleased with what he heard, Keenan remarked, "I can hear myself singing those songs." Although he originally desired a female vocalist, Howerdel agreed that Keenan would be a good fit, and A Perfect Circle was formed a short time later. The two rounded out the band's initial lineup with bassist and violinist Paz Lenchantin, former Failure guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen, and Primus drummer Tim Alexander. The band played their first show at LA's Viper Club Reception in August 1999, followed by a larger-scale, more widely publicized show at the Coachella Festival the following October. While initially in talks to release the album on Volcano Records – Tool's record label – Keenan stated that they instead chose to go with Virgin Records, who Keenan felt better understood that Keenan meant for the band to be an equally important band to Tool, not a minor side project. After the initial shows and securing a record deal, the band entered the studio to begin work on their first album. Alexander was soon replaced with Josh Freese, who previously worked with Howerdel on the Guns N' Roses album "Chinese Democracy", with Alexander's only studio contribution being drums on the album version of the song "The Hollow".
The band's debut album, "Mer de Noms" (French for "Sea of Names"), was released on May 23, 2000. The album was well received commercially and critically. It debuted at number four on the Billboard 200, selling 188,000 copies in its first week and making it the highest selling debut album for a rock band. "Mer de Noms" was later certified platinum by the RIAA, indicating 1 million copies sold, on October 31, 2000. The album was also well received by critics. The release earned the band the "Best Debut Album" award from the California Music Awards. In the album review by Rolling Stone, Pat Blashill wrote that Keenan "added an almost operatic angst to Howerdel's songs" and concluded that "A Perfect Circle sound like a desperate dream of what rock used to be. Maybe that's the point." AllMusic's review expressed that "there's little question that the addicting combination of Keenan's aching voice and Howerdel's accomplished songs and production skills made for one of 2000's best splashes in whatever was left of 'modern rock'." Promotions began shortly after recording for the album was finished. Initially, they served as the opening act for Nine Inch Nails on the 2000 Fragility v2.0 tour, but subsequently embarked on a number of headlining tours all over the world, touring for around eight months straight. As Keenan was well known through his other band, he would often wear long wigs on his otherwise bald head when performing, to distinguish himself from his Tool persona. The album produced three singles as well: "Judith", "3 Libras", and "The Hollow". All three performed well commercially; peaking at fourth, twelfth, and fourteenth on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart respectively.
Activity began slowing down for the band by late 2000, with Keenan returning to Tool to finish the recording of what would be their next album, "Lateralus". Keenan returned to A Perfect Circle to tour from January to March 2001, until returning to Tool again for the rest of 2001 to release and tour in support of Lateralus. Initial plans were for Howerdel to collaborate long-distance on writing new A Perfect Circle material with Keenan while he toured with Tool, by sending ideas back and forth to one another, though Keenan found it too difficult to balance both, eventually lessening his role while he focused on Tool. Efforts continued through mid-2002, with Howerdel primarily focusing on writing new material while sporadically working with Van Leeuwen, Lenchantin, and Freese. By June 2002, Van Leeuwen estimated that about 80% of the instrumental material was completed while they waited for Keenan's return. However, lineup changes and disagreements on the album's direction would lead to the album not being released for over a year. Both Lenchantin and VanLeeuwen had both been working on solo material during the band's downtime, and then moved on to join other bands. Lenchantin would leave to join Billy Corgan's new start-up band Zwan in April 2002, while Van Leeuwen began touring Queens of the Stone Age shortly after. Ex-Marilyn Manson bassist Jeordie White, formerly known as Twiggy Ramirez, replaced Lenchantin on bass in January 2003. Shortly after, VanLeeuwen permanently left the band, and long-time band collaborator Danny Lohner filled in temporarily as the second guitarist for wrapping up the album.
Keenan rejoined the sessions in early 2003, and the music began taking a different direction with the new lineup and Keenan's influence. Beyond the new personnel, the dynamic had changed: With "Mer de Noms", Howerdel had already written and finalized all of the music, with Keenan just contributing the lyrics and vocals. This time around, Keenan was more active in vetoing or altering musical ideas, determined to make something different than just another hard rock album, in fear of it being redundant. Sessions became tense, with Howerdel preferring the heavier compositions written while waiting for Keenan to return to the band, and sometimes taking offense to Keenan's suggested mellower rearrangements. White would play the role of a mediator between the two; being newer to the band helped him provide an outsider's perspective, helping them to find a common ground. The band released their second album, "Thirteenth Step", on September 16, 2003. The album debuted even higher than "Mer de Noms", charting at number 2 in its opening week and selling over 233,000 copies. The album, and its accompanying new sound, fared well critically as well. The AllMusic review praised the bands new sound, describing it as "moodier, tenser, and more atmospheric (if that is possible) recording than its predecessor. The wide dynamic swathes that were so prominent on the band's debut are all but absent here. The squalling guitars have taken a backseat to carefully crafted melodies where atmospherics are maximized and pulled taut over the listener. While not a radical departure from Mer de Noms, there is a real progression here. Lyrically, musically, sonically, the Thirteenth Step is proof positive that mainstream rock has plenty of life and vision left in it." Touring in support of the album started in the U.S. in July 2003, and ran through the end of the year, with a brief European leg of the tour extending out to Europe with the Deftones in September. Lohner, who could not commit to touring on a full-time permanent basis, was replaced by former The Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha. In January 2004, the group left the country to play shows in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. They headed back to the U.S. in March and wrapped up touring in June, totaling to about a year straight of touring. Meanwhile, three singles were released from the album: "Weak and Powerless", "The Outsider" and "Blue". "Weak and Powerless" managed to top the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks and Mainstream Rock Songs, while "The Outsider" later peaked in the top 5 of both as well. "Weak and Powerless" and "The Outsider" were also the band's only songs to have substantial cross-over success, charting on the Billboard Hot 100 all-format chart, at 61 and 79 respectively.
After wrapping up the touring in support of "Thirteenth Step" in the first half of 2004, the band had announced it planned to enter a long hiatus while Keenan returned to Tool and Howerdel pursued a solo career. In July 2004, Keenan performed at Serj Tankian's (System of a Down) and Tom Morello's (Rage Against the Machine) Axis of Justice concert – an event for musicians to advocate for political and social causes. At the performance, Keenan announced that A Perfect Circle would be releasing a collection of political cover songs. During the beginning of the touring cycle for "Thirteenth Step", Howerdel and Keenan discussed potential ideas for a third studio album. An early idea was to record an album of cover songs, though they were initially hesitant, feeling they needed a meaningful reason to warrant doing it. Keenan, who had been very critical of President George W. Bush during the touring cycle, proposed tying the concept together as a political-themed covers album, with Howerdel, while generally apolitical publicly, felt was worth pursuing in their post-September 11th attacks political and social climate. The two put their plans on hold temporarily and decided to move forward on the project as the band's third studio album. Keenan emphasized that, despite his personal feelings on Bush, the album was less of an "anti-Bush" album, and more of a "anti-political apathy" – encouraging people to research things and become more involved.
The band rushed to complete the album in time to release it prior to the 2004 U.S. Presidential Elections in November, just barely a year after their prior release. Recording sessions ran from late June to early September. The sessions, largely the work of Howerdel, Keenan, and Freese, contained contributions from past and present members of the band, including Lenchantin, Lohner, White, and Iha. Keenan, aware of the time constraints and Howerdel's future intentions on doing solo albums, also encouraged Howerdel to contribute lead vocals to about a third of the album. A wide variety of different songs were chosen to be recorded, from Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" to Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks". Most songs were radical reinterpretations of the original, sometimes unrecognizable compared to the originals. Howerdel explained that it was done on purpose, to make the song's their own, and conceded that he, as of 2010, still had not even once ever heard the original version of Crucifix's "Annihilation", another song re-recorded for the album. He also stated that some songs had started as original A Perfect Circle songs musically, until the band decided to use the lyrics of other songs over the compositions, in turn converting them into cover songs.
The band's third album, "Emotive", was released on November 2, 2004, the actual U.S Presidential Election Day. However, the album received a much more polarizing reception than the prior two albums, with some critics and fans not appreciating the band's move into more political content, or the radical liberties they had taken with the album's cover versions. Other's accused the band of rushing out a third album in order to fulfill the band's three album contractual obligation to Virgin Records, a claim refuted as false by Howerdel. The album still managed to receive a generally positive reception from critics. Sales were similarly positive, but less so than prior albums. The position debuted at number 2 on the Billboard 200 charts, selling 142,000 copies in its first week – matching "Thirteenth Step"s peak chart placement, but selling almost 90,000 copies less. The album was certified Gold by the RIAA, indicating 500,000 units sold.
The band did not tour in support of the release, instead entering a hiatus shortly after its completion. Two singles were released in support of the album, the first of which was a somber cover of John Lennon's "Imagine" The second single, "Passive", was one of just two original songs on the album, tracing back to writing sessions for Trent Reznor's unreleased Tapeworm project. In the late 1990s, Reznor started the project for songs that did not fit Nine Inch Nails, which eventually grew into a collaborative project with a number of other musicians. One track, "Vacant", featured contributions from Keenan and Lohner in 1999, but with the project hitting development hell due to creative and legal hurdles of many of the participants in the early 2000s, A Perfect Circle began playing the track at live shows. With the project being shelved completely by 2004, Keenan decided to rework the track as "Passive" for "Emotive". Additionally, two weeks after the release of the album release, on November 16, 2004, the band released the CD/DVD compilation set entitled "Amotion". The DVD part contained the music videos for band six singles; while the CD is composed entirely of remixes of the singles from "Mer de Noms" and "Thirteenth Step".