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Post-election blues
An ominous salvo from A Perfect Circle

An animated video from A Perfect Circle’s latest album hammers home the band’s intent: the visuals for "Counting Bodies like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums" are portrayed with stick children, oil wells, dripping blood, the word "SHEEP," Dubya on horseback, Dubya dispensing propaganda in the form of ice-cream cones, meat grinders, and television sets, all of it rolling across the screen like some demented public-service announcement. Beneath the visuals, Tool vocalist Maynard James Keenan sings "Go back to sleep" and screams "Don’t test me" as drummer Josh Freeze thumps an ominous cadence.

Released on Election Day, eMOTIVe (Virgin) was set to join other pop-culture rabble rousers in firing off fusillades at an inept and dangerous White House. Political revolution was the goal, or at least a new awakening among an apathetic twentysomething electorate. eMOTIVe is an anti-war album outfitted with covers of well-known protest songs like John Lennon’s "Imagine" and Memphis Minnie’s "When the Levee Breaks" (popularized by Led Zeppelin) as well as not so popular ones like Crucifix’s "Annihilation" and Fear’s "Let’s Have a War," everything rendered with A Perfect Circle’s vein-squeezing, goth-prog approach.

Well, the election is over, the new boss is the same as the old boss, and eMOTIVe feels spent and anti-climatic, at least on the surface. What good is a protest album released on the day of the election? If it had been released a month earlier, perhaps a couple of tracks, like the Nick Lowe song popularized by Elvis Costello "(What’s So Funny) ’Bout Peace, Love and Understanding" and Marvin Gaye’s "What’s Going On," could have been taken to heart as songs of rage to empower the proactive. A Perfect Circle’s reworkings are menacing and gloomy but thoroughly original. Reanimating a familiar song as a droning minimalist dirge or a bizarre ambient rocker does prompt you to interpret the lyrics anew. But after the fact, as political tools, the songs lack purpose.

Better to take them on their own terms. If you’re still licking your post-election wounds, you’re not likely to give a rat’s ass about the "message" anyhow. When you just listen to APC’s magical weirdness, you’ll hear well-worn "hits" transformed into something skeletal, morbid, somber. APC make these songs their own, perhaps more so than anyone since Devo twisted the juvenile desire of the Stones’ "Satisfaction" into a happy techno war cry for robots, aliens, and future dance-floor fiends. But given that APC are all about the black thoughts that avoid the light, these covers won’t make you feel warm or cozy, or even much like dancing.

"It’s your choice, peace or annihilation," Keenan whispers in Crucifix’s "Annihilation," the song ringing around him as sweet Christmas chimes and not-so-sweet winds howl in the background. John Lennon’s "Imagine" is more straightforward and deadly, a gargantuan John Bonham–ish beat slamming the singer about as warlike strings march in lockstep. Can you say, Nazi rally? The familiar chorus of "Imagine" turns into a sour lament here, the sound of 1000 soldiers staring at a blood-red sky. Queasy flamenco guitars, threatening strings, and a strangled groove help slow "Peace Love and Understanding" to dirge tempo, Keenan singing like a lost child; Marvin Gaye’s "What’s Going On" is sullen and nightmarishly slow, "When the Levee Breaks" is the most innovative cover here, and the most tuneful. Minimalist piano chords, reverberating drums, and wandering bass support Keenan’s layered vocals, which float over the æthereal track like a ghoul searching for peace. The gossamer, sleep-inducing verses are grounded, but the modulated chorus signals sweet release. Fear’s "Let’s Have a War" sounds like Marvin Gaye and Rob Zombie vamping over drum-and-bass rhythms. Depeche Mode’s "People Are People" is as annoying as a bug burner, out of tune and nauseated. Black Flag’s "Gimme Gimme Gimme" sounds like the soundtrack to a mediæval guillotine festival, a bawling blast of gurgling vocals, wheezing pump organ, and triumphantly gruesome drumming.

The original songs on eMOTIVe, "Counting Bodies like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums" and "Passive," are the blood and guts to the cover songs’ mental machinations, two of the more rocking and up-tempo songs the band have recorded. "Counting Bodies" is especially raunchy, its knuckle-dragging guitars, thug-like grunts, militaristic drums, and gate-slamming sound effects a pure vision of Hell. And as Curtis Mayfield once said in an earlier era of war and political dishonesty, "If there’s a Hell below, we’re all gonna go."

Issue Date: December 3 - 9, 2004
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