I was pumped for this record to come out, having been a longtime fan of A Perfect Circle and Tool, but honestly when I first listened to it it was underwhelming. That may have had more to do with the timing - it released just as my mother lost her battle with cancer, so I definitely had other things on my mind at the time. Hadn't listened since then, but Spotify, in it's infinite algorithmic wisdom, played one of the tracks during a workout the other day and I was struck by the themes. This prompted a re-listen and in amongst what amounts to a fairly meh collection of songs, I found a trio of tracks in the mid-section that are particularly pertinent given the chaos unfolding around the world at the moment. If you can tolerate Maynard's self-indulgent and fairly forthright commentary on the hypocrisies of modern life, I'd recommend these 3 at least.
Firstly, there's track 4, The Doomed. With an opening drum lick that felt like a throwback to some of their earlier work, this one starts slow, but the vocals hit hard an with an undertone of menace. Musically it's a bit all over the place with guitars not really carrying it except for when they build and drive home from around the 3:30 mark. Asynchronous drum beats build towards almost a marching rhythm towards the end and things seem to come together with what sounds like xylophones (?). Thematically it's religion-heavy as we've come to expect from Maynard. Focusing on the Beatitudes, blessings as recounted by Jesus, it explores how warped and twisted they have become by those who publicly espouse their faith yet violate it with their actions. They go so far as to suggest new Beatitudes more appropriate for the hypocrisy of the modern world.
Blessed are the fornicates
May we bend down to be their whores
Blessed are the rich
May we labour, 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
As expected, it gets dark quickly, echoing the thoughts of many when the evil of those in power feels like it's overwhelming. Positive this ain't, but it seems prescient in the age of conservative pundits who are supposedly devoted to Jesus but are onto their 3rd wife and 7th sexual assault allegation. Suggesting that good folks are essentially doomed, it delivers a blunt message with a final growl over swelling guitars and drums.
Doomed are the poor
Doomed are the peaceful
Doomed are the meek
Doomed are the merciful
For the word is now death
And the word is now without light
The new beatitude:
"Fuck the doomed, you're on your own"
Next up track 5, So Long and Thanks for all the Fish. With the obvious nod to Douglas Adams and Hitchhikers Guide, this was my favourite song from the album from day one. Musically it's an upbeat journey with the repeated guitar riff and underlying drum beat carrying an optimistically lighthearted feel. Lyrically and thematically, obviously, it's almost the exact opposite. Overtly lamenting the waste and excess of modern society while acknowledging the swathe of celebrities that passed over the years preceding the album's release date as having "checked out", it's a juxtaposition of sound and theme that I think really works.
Time is money and money's time
We wasted every second dime
On diets, lawyers, shrinks and apps and flags and plastic surgery
Now Willy Wonka, Major Tom, Ali, and Leia have moved on
Signal the final curtain call in all its atomic pageantry
With a sense of glee the final chorus (?) welcomes the apocalypse with open arms after assuring us that "all the dolphins have moved on", quoting Adams.
For this fireworks display
Mind and body blown away
What a radiant crescendo
I've listened to this song on a loop many times and honestly, it's kind of comforting at this point. We're all only here for a short time, let's focus on doing the right thing, helping people and enjoying ourselves. Otherwise we may as well nuke the whole thing and leave it for the roaches.
Rounding out the trio is Talk, Talk, again with the religious undertones that Maynard introduces with all the subtlety of a bulldozer. This was another one that resonated with me at the time, but not as strongly as track 5, at least initially. Paraphrasing James 2:14-26 and quoting directly from it at some points, it explores the message actions over words. Chastising those who spout empty rhetoric contrasted with the hypocrisy or laziness of their actions, it's very similar thematically to track 4. As such it bookends quite nicely the "fuck it, blow it all up" attitude of track 5. Listening in the aftermath of my mother's passing it conveyed a message of hope - she dedicated most of her life towards service of others, retiring after decades as a teacher to go on and work for a community transport organization, helping the most vulnerable among us. She truly lived her faith (such as it was) through her life's works. Listening again a few months later, in the aftermath of yet another American mass shooting, it stirred a cold rage within me in the face of empty platitudes from the nations supposed leaders, bought and paid for by NRA dollars.
Like cake in a crisis
We're bleeding out
Musically, this rage builds steadily throughout the song. It starts with a piano composition and easy drumbeat giving a light and airy feel but progresses quickly towards stabs of power chords underscoring the message of the chorus and into the first bridge, where he quotes almost directly from the scripture. The final howling guitars accompany the final lyrical haymaker of the song.
Try braving the rain
Try lifting the stone
Try extending a hand
Try walking your talk or get the fuck out of my way
Those were the highlights of the album for me, but the themes are fairly consistent throughout. Hope these tracks resonate with you as well.