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A Perfect Circle - Thirteenth Step 
By Dan Grote

SUPERGROUP ALERT! A Perfect Circle started out as “Dude, did you hear Maynard’s new side project?”, a melodic version of Tool’s prog metal featuring a bunch of then-unknowns such as former guitar tech Billy Howerdel, former teacher Paz Lenchantin, and session drummer Josh Freese. After the platinum success of the band’s first album, Maynard returned to Tool to release both the bits ‘n’ pieces CD/DVD tome Sylavil and a full-length disc, Lateralus, which fans gobbled up in the summer of 2001. Paz Lenchantin left the group when Billy Corgan came calling to form (and later disband) Zwan, guitarist Troy VanLeeuwen became the guitarist for Queens of the Stone Age, and Freese did some drumming for top 40 goths Evanescence, turning the Circle into a supergroup after the fact.

To make the new album and subsequent tour possible, Maynard and Howerdel traded one Corgan punching bag for another, replacing Lenchantin with former Smashing Pumpkin James Iha, while substituting Van Leeuwen with Twiggy from Marilyn Manson, now called Jeordie White, sealing the Supergroup label once and for all.

So, how palpable is the change from side project to supergroup? Not very, to be quite honest, considering that the key songwriting team of Howerdel and Maynard is still intact (that and Van Leeuwen still plays guitar on the album). Songs like “The Package” and the single “Weak and Powerless” still capture the mood metal of the first album. 

Maynard still gets in awesome lines like, “Your halo’s slipping down to choke you now” (from “The Noose”). Softer pieces in the vein of “3 Libras” exist on the new album as well, such as “A Stranger” and “Lullaby,” a track that’s nothing more than a Freese drum loop centered around soft female cooing attributed to someone called Jarboe. 

There is one song that feels completely out of step with everything that comes before it. “The Nurse Who Loved Me,” credited to Greg Edwards and Ken Andrews, quite frankly, sounds like a Disney song. And not one of those upbeat Disney songs like “Hakuna Matata,” more like one of those sappy ballads where the star-crossed cartoon lovers sing to each other from across the divide. It’s not a bad song per se; it’s actually a great narrative piece, but it’s guaranteed to elicit a “What the F%$@” response upon first listen, made all the more jarring by the return-to-rock response track of “Pet.”

VERDICT: A second Circle CD was never absolutely unfathomable, but with the tenuous supergroup format the group seems to have taken, don’t expect a third Circle CD with the same lineup. As long as both Maynard and Howerdel are manning the reins, that shouldn’t really be a problem, and it certainly takes a lot of guts to branch out and make sure Maynard sounds as effeminate as possible on the ballad pieces. Expect a lighter sound than the first CD, a reminder to Tool fans that the Circle is more than just “Maynard’s side project.”

CD Info 

A Perfect Circle - Thirteenth Step
Label: Virgin Records
Package, The
Weak And Powerless
Noose, The
Stranger, A
Outsider, The
Nurse Who Loved Me, The
Listen to samples and Purchase this CD online

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