Pessimism and Evangelicalism: A Perfect Circle’s “The Doomed”
I remember the feeling of hearing A Perfect Circle for the first time like it was yesterday. It was the summer of 2000. I was living in the suburbs of Chicago; an awkward 15 years old, overflowing with angst and anger. I was at a friend's house when he put on their first cd, Mer De Noms, and said, “You’ve got to hear this.”
Like many teenagers, I found my release in music.
Dark. Sad. Angry. The more emotive the better. Aggressive music was my catharsis anything and everything I had difficulty processing and expressing in my life.
Most of the music I listened to was heavy, loud, fast, and laden with rage. My CD case read like a Hot Topic ‘Best Of’ list: Rob Zombie, Mudvayne, Korn, Slipknot.
A Perfect Circle, in contrast, was significantly slower, quieter, and less aggressive than anything I was listening to at the time. Maynard’s beautiful, soaring vocals paired with the often sing-song guitar styling of Billy Howerdel pulled me along through hypnotic depths of anger and sadness. It was pivotal for me in recognizing the power in emotional range, and in understanding the disillusionment and darkness that I was experiencing. They released a few incredible albums, some live music, and then sort of drifted away from me as I grew up.
Then, in spring 2018, and seemingly out of nowhere, A Perfect Circle released Eat the Elephant, their first full-length album in fourteen years. Ahead of this, the band put out their first single, “The Doomed”, as complex, atmospheric, aggressive, and scornful of a song as they have ever written.
All those years later, in those 4 and a half minutes, the band once again sonically gave voice to so much of what I was experiencing in the world around me.
“Behold the new Christ” […]
“And the word was death
And the word was without light
The new beatitude:
“Good luck, you’re on your own”
These are the first lyrics anyone has heard from the band in nearly half a decade, and they don’t mince words in the least.
Keenan pulls deeply theological language and imagery, referencing the first verse from the book of John, to paint an image of a new religious landscape. One where the dominant beatitude (a term meaning ‘blessing’ referencing the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount) is not for the most vulnerable, but for the rich, the wrathful, the gluttonous, and the vain.
Blessed are the fornicates
May we bend down to be their whores
Blessed are the rich
May we labor, deliver them more
Blessed are the envious
Bless the slothful, the wrathful, the vain
Blessed are the gluttonous
May they feast us to famine and war
A Perfect Circle doesn’t leave the listener there. In a haunting and melodic bridge the follow-up question is asked:
What of the pious, the pure of heart, the peaceful?
What of the meek, the mourning, and the merciful?
What of the righteous? What of the charitable?
What of the truthful, the dutiful, the decent?
The response comes in just two haunting words, “All Doomed.”
“Fourteen years have passed since we released eMOTIVe,” says Maynard James Keenan. “A new release is long overdue. In light of this current difficult and polarized social, spiritual and political climate, we artist types need to open our big mouths and share the light a little louder.” ¹
“The Doomed”, and Eat the Elephant as a whole, give voice to the political and Evangelical religious climate that has been steadily growing for the past decade. Far-right extremism, Q-Anon, conspiracy theories, a complete disregard for the poor, the sick, and the stranger have all become twisted up with the dominant religion of the American Evangelical Christian church.
This is not the band’s first foray into political commentary. Their previous album, eMOTIVe, was a collection of political cover songs including John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” meant to address our nation’s “anti-political apathy” in the midst of the Bush administration.
Eat the Elephant follows in this social commentary, pushing the listener to confront the tough subjects (the ‘Elephants in the room’, if you will) of the world around us, and to take them on ‘one bite at a time’ as the proverb goes. Songs like “Disillusioned” urge us to “put the silicon obsession down”, and “So Long and Thanks for All the Fish” address our modern culture of materialism. “TalkTalk” once again addresses religious hypocrisy head-on with lyrics like “You’re waiting on miracles, we’re bleeding out thoughts and prayers” and “Sit and talk like Jesus, Try walkin’ like Jesus.”
In this, A Perfect Circle stands as a shining example of how art can act as a commentary of the world it inhabits, calling us to examine the philosophical and social issues and hypocrisies within and without, and to, ultimately, do better.
When I was a young child, maybe eight or nine years old my father introduced me to a practice of listening to music with deep intention. We would lay on the floor of our living room and he would put a record on the turntable, turn the lights out, and have me close my eyes and listen to a song.
After the song’s end, lights back on, he would look at me and ask, “How did that make you feel?”
That is what I would invite you to do with “The Doomed”, and all of A Perfect Circle’s newest album.