With so much aural greatness flooding the airwaves or running through various electronic devices, it sometimes proves to be difficult to branch out and explore other musicians through their works. Once a month, an album released during that month (from any potential year) is reviewed and given an answer of whether or not it’s worth listening to. For this month, I look at A Perfect Circle’s first full-length release, “Mer de Noms”.
“Mer de Noms”
Released: May 23, 2000
Genre: Alternative Rock
Number of Tracks: 12
Between 1998 and 1999, lead singer of the progressive rock/heavy metal band Tool, Maynard James Keenan had the chance to listen to some demos created by guitar technician and fellow songwriter Billy Howerdel. Keenan enjoyed the music enough to offer his services in turning Howerdel’s demos into something more. It didn’t take long before the pieces started falling into place. Joining Howerdel and Keenan were former Failure guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen, bassist and violinist Paz Lenchantin, and the previous drummer for Primus, Tim Alexander (later replaced by Josh Freese from The Vandals band). Anticipation grew more and more until the day their first album was released (ironically enough on my fifteenth birthday) to form “A Perfect Circle”.
It would take a while before any of APC’s music met my ears (having only been an uneducated/unknowing Tool fan thanks to a couple of their songs airing on MTV before the days of me owning a cassette tape/CD player). Eventually being exposed to this super group side project through the band’s second album, I felt it was time to take a step back four-plus years after APC’s debut album was made public to see what the first record had to offer other than its memorable first and third singles (having not heard the second single before purchasing the album).
Similar to the band’s next full release, “Mer de Noms” (or “Sea of Names” in French) starts off hot and heavy with “The Hollow”. It becomes apparent the opening song’s subject matter doesn’t just pertain to the “characters”, but also the listener. It’s at this point the listener is peaking into the rabbit hole, watching it grow larger and larger while, unknowingly, scooting backwards to avoid falling in. Suddenly, someone comes up behind you, kicking the listener square in the butt to send them deeper into this newly formed gorge.
And that’s where “Mer de Noms” gets you. Every time you think you’re about to be lulled into a beautiful safety, either a hard guitar riff or blistering lyrical line catches you off guard and shocks your senses. Look no further than the first two songs.
The aforementioned “The Hollow” is heavy as they come for the song’s majority. Segueing into “Magdalena”, the album already seems to be slowing down with Keenan’s heavy breathing following the tone set by Josh Freese’s slow drum beat and Billy Howerdel’s almost euphoric bass/guitar work. The atmosphere suddenly changes and Alexander’s drumming sounds like a colossus stomping through a barren wasteland in an attempt to keep up with Maynard growling about sacrificing all sense of decency for a particular female (a woman who might have no morals or decency herself depending on how you interpret the song).
Eventually, this strategy to “trick” the listener before “surprising” them in one-way or another effectively works. While the beautiful sounds of Paz Lechanen’s violin stringing might have you swaying like a piece of tall grass in the field at the tail end of “Rose”, expect to throttled immediately after by the band’s most famous/infamous tune, “Judith” (a song grossly misinterpreted and not used as a blasphemous tool toward God/Jehovah/Love, but a total down-casting of the image of God as some Santa Claus-looking warmonger raining down torment and judgment even on those who have faith in Him).
You can’t write about an album like this and not look at the concepts provided lyrically. The “dark” heart and soul of “Mer de Noms” is mostly based on human interaction and relationships (both positive and negative) written from the perspective of Howerdel and seemingly modified to relate to Keenan. The incredibly beautiful “3 Libras” swoons and sways mostly thanks to the string instruments utilized (a violin and viola).
But “Libra’s” description of a person being used by others for their own personal gain while not understanding how their actions affect him or her (where the parasite’s host seemingly just gives in with Keenan sighing, “Oh well,” near the song’s conclusion) stands steadfast throughout. While maybe not as “deep” as some Tool fans would’ve hoped for, the lyrics and stories/thoughts provided throughout the album are still profound and relatable.
Does “Mer de Noms” set the world on fire and provide a perfect (pun intended) listening experience? Not fully as there are some minor bumps thanks to the “heavy-soft” style utilized throughout the album. Some have gone as far as to say the album’s second half doesn’t hold up the quality set by the first six impressive songs (though track eleven/“Brena” could stand against any APC song). But that doesn’t take away from the fact that A Perfect Circle provided a unique, truly introspective alternative rock album that, while more commercial sounding than Maynard’s “baby”, provided a sound and lyrical content digging deeper than most albums being produced at that time on a mainstream level. If you’re into somewhat dark, moody, and unknowingly funny music (“Thinking of You”, anyone?) “Mer de Noms” won’t let you down.
Standout Tracks: “The Hollow”, “Magdalena”, “Judith”, “Orestes”, “3 Libras”, “Thomas”, and “Brena”.