Sticking with the theme from last week’s review of Stone Sour’s Meanwhile In Burbank, I thought I’d talk about A Perfect Circle’s eMOTIVe, which tops my list of favourite cover albums. A Perfect Circle are a side project of Tool vocalist Maynard James Keenan, which is led in equal part by ex-Tool guitar tech Billy Howerdel, however they are currently on an extended hiatus and have been since 2005, only releasing one new song through a compilation record during this time.
Although it’s been over ten years since the release of eMOTIVe, the album has lost none of its initial appeal and still gets a regular spin in my CD player, which is a rare trait for a cover album, as most are quickly left by the wayside. Its success began in its initial conception as a war-themed cover album, giving the project much more of a purpose than just a collection of the band’s favourite songs.
However, having such a powerful theme does have its drawbacks, as well as its advantages. On one hand they could choose proven and influential war tracks that, if covered right, would have the desired impact, however, on the other side they left themselves with a very tricky set of songs to cover, including the John Lennon’s timeless classic Imagine.
Fortunately the particular style used to cover these tracks meant that eMOTIVe was a success. Not one of the songs present on the album is a direct copy; instead they have been made darker and often, as in the case with Imagine and Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, they have been stripped down to a much rawer sound. The drums are a particular area that have been focussed on, and have a real depth to them, mirroring the weight of subject matter.
Alongside the covers there are two original A Perfect Circle songs: one completely new, in the form of Passive and another, Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums, that is a re-working of a war-themed track from their second record, Thirteenth Step. Passive is a powerful track that sits happily along side the proven covers, without sounding like a parody or a dodgy imitation, whilst Counting Bodies takes a harsh industrial approach, painting vivid imagery of the war scene it describes, much more successfully than the original version.
Perhaps the strongest component of the record is the great vocal variation employed by A Perfect Circle, helping to further the unique style of these covers. Part of the variety comes from both Keenan and Howerdel offering vocals to the record, but also due to the incredible vocal diversity Keenan provides. The bleak scene-setting opener Annihilation (originally by Crucifix) features menacing whispers, whilst Black Flag’s Gimme Gimme Gimme sees Kennan switching between rasping raws and a softer timid voice and Fear’s Let’s Have A War showcases both his falsetto and a rumbling tribal vocal.
Combining all these aspects means that eMOTIVe is essentially an album of covers disguised as originals. This is the real strength of the record, as their unique twist on the covers means that nothing here is predictable, giving the songs the longevity and repeatability that usually evades most cover albums.
Join the RockAtlantic mailing list by clicking on follow and, as always, press like if you enjoyed this blog and let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.