A right of passage for any successful collaborative songwriter seems to be the inevitable departure into solo territory, expanding the boundaries of their already pursued musical pathways but tweaking them to form a unique voice. In some cases it's as if the original group were only a vehicle to propel the genius-in-hiding into the public eye before the real smarts come out (think of Phil Collins honing in on the big-drums 80 sound after being confined to Genesis' limiting style.) But Billy Howerdel missed out on the whole make it different scheme when he plotted this sequel to A Perfect Circle. Much like Serj Tankian's recent solo debut, there's just not enough space between the original band and the new project.
In Howerdel's heart, it's still 2000 and Staind is still the competition. Look at the song titles: "Denial Waits" and "Too Late" would have flown on nu-metal radio at the turn of the century, but are bound to flop now (in fact, "Stripped Away" is already the title of a Fuel song – remember them?) This is more or less a reconstruction of APC's Thirteenth Step, but without the artistic style and breathtaking voice of Maynard James Keenan, though Howerdel does his best to imitate him vocally.
The album's greatest strength is its choruses, which stand out as catchy and memorable moments from otherwise boring songs like "The Stone" – which is the best "Weak and Powerless" clone on here. That chorus shows that Howerdel is capable of being captivating – it's emotive and engaging. Now why can't he just do it for the rest of the album, rather than spitting up formulas over and over again?
To be fair, there are a few other elements to be found throughout the disc to counterbalance the overt Circle influence. There's an element of Coldplay drums and atmosphere thrown into the mix on songs like "Denial Waits" – it's like the nu-metal "Clocks". But, as you can probably guess from that description, the equation doesn't exactly work. The Manson-esque attack at the beginning of "The Prey" is a better match for Howerdel's turn-of-the-century mentality, but the second it vanishes the track turns back into every other song.
This is not the most exciting release to grace the alternative spectrum in the last year, but fans of A Perfect Circle will get a nostalgia kick out of it. There's nothing new introduced, but there's a few head-nodders here and there. Just as long as Maynard can keep his attention focused on Tool, I'm sure most fans will agree, Billy Howerdel can do whatever he wants.
CD Info and Links
ASHES dIVIDE - Keep Telling Myself It's Alright