In May of 2000, A Perfect Circle released their debut studio album, Mer de Noms. It landed hard and high at No. 4 on the Billboard 200, incredibly impressive for a band’s very first offering.
Of course, this wasn’t some EP recorded by a gang of indie festival darlings deemed worthy by Rolling Stone or Pitchfork. The original lineup for A Perfect Circle was made up of musicians who’d been around the block a time or two. Yes, there was buzz. They had a lot of inevitable fans taking notice as soon as they played their first show at The Viper Room in ‘99, and subsequent gigs at Coachella and opening for Nine Inch Nails only built the whole thing up more. The band had a legion of followers who were laying in wait. These APC devotees knew this was a band that was going to deliver. They knew whatever that album had on it would be more than the sum of its parts. They’d bought the product sight unseen, or rather unheard, showing no regrets for doing so. And they were rewarded for their faith.
But if only that were the case.
The fact is, A Perfect Circle didn’t get that early buzz because they were made up of five top-level musicians who had a vision. That was part of it, but not as big a part as it deserved to be. The real foot in the door of immediate fandom came from a lazy label that was slapped on long before day one.
This was “Maynard’s other band.”
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Maynard James Keenan had been the voice of Tool for a decade by then, and his unmistakable voice and undeniable charisma became the focal point for the cult of Tool – quite unfairly, actually. Guitarist Adam Jones, drummer Danny Carey, and bassist Justin Chancellor never really got the credit they deserved from most fans. Those who could appreciate the band from a musical or technical standpoint knew Maynard was just one piece in the masterpiece. But to the rest of us knuckleheads, (and yes, I’m including myself in that lot) this was “Maynard’s band.”
We were “Tools,” appropriately enough. And we were waiting for our false idol to bestow us with his next gift.
It was a kind of blind devotion to one man that had us spending the first half of 2000 pestering our record store clerks with incessant questions about release dates and preorders. And when we finally got our hands on Mer de Noms, frantically tore at the cellophane and threw it in our Discmans (Discmen?) or JVC home stereos, we were on board. From the second the drums hit on "The Hollow," we knew this was $13.99 well spent.
But we still compared it to Tool. We called it a “softer, more melodic” version of Tool. We asked ourselves if APC was perhaps better than Tool, or if Tool was better than APC, instead of just letting each band be who they were, independently of one another. And perhaps the most egregious crime of all was that we completely ignored the years of work done by guitarist and founder Billy Howerdel, who had been putting together early versions of APC songs as way back as the late ;80s. The guy who got this thing on track since the get go seemed to have been relegated to the background.
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How do you pull away from that? How do you get the band to a place in which they’re seen as they are, and not as “Maynard and Co.?”
You stand the test of time. A Perfect Circle has been faced with all the situations that gradually erode at a band. Lineup changes, record company disputes, paradigm shifts in the industry … they’ve withstood them all, and kept their core untouched and unchanged. Eighteen years later, and all us Tools who had compared Tool to A Perfect Circle, (the musical equivalent of comparing apples to … well, A Perfect Circle) are forced to admit fault and embrace the formerly far-off concept that one frontman can play in two bands. Two great bands.
It’s a shame it took this long. But hey, nobody's Perfect.