Album Spotlight: A Perfect Circle – “The Thirteenth Step”


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1. The Package

“Eye on what i’m after/ I don’t need another friend/ Nod and watch your lips move/ If you need me to pretend / Because clever got me this far/ Then tricky got me in/ I’ll take just what I came for/ Then I’m out the door again”. A Perfect Circle begins what I consider their best album with an ominous and lyrically representative track. “The Package” is dark and, oh, so true.

This track can be taken different ways. I’ve seen some people take it in a sexual manner and especially about drug addiction. However, there is much more here that I feel applies to all of the above. Maynard is here describing a type of person; something he does for the rest of the album, really. These frauds have an eye on one thing in life: their own wants and desires. They care only for themselves.  So, while it’s obvious that drugs are the focus here (and for much of the album), I think there is something deeper be discussed.

It’s obvious in their demeanor, too. They smile to your face, but stab you in the back. They hang around when you have something they want, but are missing in action when you are in need. They don’t need real friends, not when they are so amazing in and of themselves. They’re so clever, they think. Yet, I think most people see through the facade. This game can’t go on forever, after all. Eventually, these self-centered fakes will be called out; the sooner the better.

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2. Weak and Powerless

Like most of the songs on this album, the next track “Weak and Powerless” is about also drug addiction.  The lyrics are quite abstract, putting us inside the minds and hearts of these victims.  I think the album title “The Thirteenth Step” is a reference to the rehabilitation of addicts, and the change has to start with recognizing the problem.

This track shows the spiral of self-decay that addicts often experience. They are often so afraid of the world, or so tired of it; that they descend into darkness to escape it. “Tilling my own grave to keep me level/ Jam another dragon down the hole/ Digging to the rhythm and the echo of a solitary siren/ One that pushes me along and leaves me so/ desperate and ravenous”.

Feeding the addiction to numb the pain. Increasing the dosage. Increasing the power. Increasing the frequency. The drugs, or whatever it is that cages you, require more and more of you. They will drag you down. What can you do to escape its grasp?

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3. The Noose

And now we come to one of my all-time favorite songs, “The Noose”.  This third track on “The Thirteenth Step” is haunting both musically and lyrically, and it has many personal applications (ones that hit home very specifically) for me that I suppose I shouldn’t share.  Anyways, one of the steps in AA is to make amends to those that you’ve hurt in your addiction.

“But I’m more than just a little curious/ How you’re planning to go about/ Making your amends to the dead/ To the dead”.  Wow.  That is one of the most potent lines in any song I’ve heard.  When you’ve let your life get out of control, can you ever make amends?  When you’ve been frivolous with the lives of other people, can you make up for that?

“And not to pull your halo down/ Around your neck and tug you to the ground”.  They’re beating the addiction.  Good for them.  Yet, that cloud-9 is really nothing.  Are they getting their lives in order?  Great!  But how can they, still alive, glory in and be proud of their accomplishments?  Is that the proper reaction?

Drugs aside, this song touches on so many people I’ve met in my life.  Those people that are aloof and so “perfect”, but their sense of arrogance and perfection, their halo, is what will ultimately choke them to death.  Their indifference for people will leave them friendless, hopeless, and alone.  They’ve left so many people injured and bleeding in their wake: When will they see themselves as they truly are?

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4. Blue

“I didn’t want to know/ I just didn’t want to know/ Best to keep things in the shallow end/ Cause I never quite learned how to swim”.  The fourth track on “The Thirteenth Step” is called “Blue”, and I feel that the meaning is quite obvious.

This track is all about ignoring the self-destructive behavior of someone in your life.  You ignore the smoke.  You ignore the little warning signs.  “Call an optimist, she’s turning blue/ Such a lovely color for you/ Call it aftermath, she’s turning blue/ While I just sit and stare at you”.  In the midst of seeing someone fall apart and slowly kill themselves, sometimes we just sit back and admire the scenery.  This shade of blue is hardly beautiful, but is certainly deadly.

Can love really allow us to do this?  Can we ignore the warning signs and the calls for help that are often coded in self-destructive behavior?  Doesn’t love compel us to intervene?  “I don’t want to know” isn’t a valid response, but sometimes the pain and truth force it from our lips.

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5. Vanishing

This next track from A Perfect Circle’s “The Thirteenth Step” is mostly an instrumental song, kinda.  It is rather ethereal, almost quivering.  The song is again about addiction, and I’d say that it has something to do with opium due to the lyric “Vanishing like a cyan Sunday/ Disappear/ Disappear”.

But, of course, I think there’s a bit more to it than the idea of watching the smoke from your pipe waft off into the distance.  That smoke, in my mind, represents something more.  It’s like watching yourself vanish slowly, bit by bit.  You barely seem to notice that the person you were is now gone.  Slowly, you vanish.  “Never really here/ What that never/ Like a thought brushing up against a sigh/ Floating away/ Floating away”….

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6. A Stranger

The cold comfort of the addiction is finally becoming a reality to the addict in “The Thirteenth Step”.  The addiction is a stranger, always there to give him comfort that never really satisfies.  It never really fills him.

“And I listen for the whisper/ Of your sweet insanity while I formulate/ Denials of your affect on me”.  Yes, the addict eventually realizes that the drugs (of whatever it may be) are destroying him, and that they are completely useless in the long run.  But that instant feeling is so strong….

“Run away terrified child/ Won’t you move away you, you fucking tornado/ I’m better off without you/ Tearing my will down”.  He’s had enough, though.  That instant sensation, he realizes, is just the death knell of his will.  He is not himself when he gives in to the pleasure.  He realizes, then, that this addiction is no stranger that will be gone tomorrow.  He finally understands that this addiction is a cage that wants to hold him forever.  It was always closer than he knew.  He was never the master.

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7. The Outsider

“Your/ Lying to yourself again/ Suicidal imbecile/ You’re pounding on a fault line/ What’ll it take to get it through to you, precious”.  Track seven on “The Thirteenth Step” is heavy lyrically.  We switch perspectives now to watch as an addict wallows in their irreality.  The loved one of this addict has had enough, but he/she still loves them!

How difficult would that be?  How hard would it be to watch someone you love slowly circle the drain of life and consciousness?  They often have no idea what they are doing, or how they are being affected.  How do you get through to them?  Eventually, though, we all have a breaking point.

“Disconnect and self destruct,/ One bullet at a time/ What’s your hurry, everyone will have his day to die/ If you choose to pull the trigger, should your drama prove sincere,/ Do it somewhere far away from here”.  All compassion is gone for the outsider.  All worry has vanished.  The outsider is gone.  The addict has been left alone to die.  When it comes to this point, what can we do?  When someone doesn’t want to hear the truth, how can we make them?  When the only who loves you has given up, how far have you fallen?

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8. Crimes

This eighth track is pretty much instrumental, as the lyrics are simply Maynard counting from one to ten.  However, I was reading that the eighth step in the AA plan for addiction is to make a list of the people you have hurt while being under the influence.  That makes sense to me, then, as this track is called “Crimes”.

Honestly, this track is sublime, too.  The slow counting gives the appearance of a depressed, suicidal addict counting the people he’s harmed, or perhaps counting the time until his next hit.  Either way, it’s saddening and depressing, as it should be.

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9.  The Nurse Who Loved Me

The ninth track on this APC album is actually a cover song from a band named Failure.  It’s interesting, though, as it definitely falls into the theme of the album.

This song is about enablers, I think.  It’s about those that feed someone’s addiction, rather than intervening like they should.  The addict is clearly in love with this “nurse” for what she can give him, not for who she is.

“She’s got everything I need/ Pharmacy keys/ She acts just like a nurse/ With all the other guys”.  Perhaps, this song could be the dazed dream of an addict in rehab, I suppose.  Yet, I prefer to think of it as indirectly convicting those that feed the deadly addiction in someone else’s life.

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10. Pet

One of the best songs APC ever wrote, “Pet” is a widely misconstrued song.  Some say that it’s about our lying government here in the USA, and others say it’s about a parent trying to shelter their children.  The latter is a little closer to the truth, and it certainly fits.  However, this song, like the whole album, is about addiction.

“Stay with me/ Safe and ignorant/ Just stay with me/ Hold you and protect you from the other ones”.  In this track, the addiction is speaking to its victim.  It woos and sways him with its words of comfort and consolation.  It promises protection, safety, and freedom.  Yet, in reality, it gives him a life unlived, safety through tyranny, and freedom through ignorance.

“Lay your head down child/ I won’t let the boogeyman come/ Count the bodies like sheep/ To the rhythm of the war drums”.  I think there is definitely a political slant here, too, though.  I think Maynard is showing how these addictions, whether they be drugs, pop culture, or even our own attempts at hiding from the world; these addictions keep us from being different.  They keep us as perfect little robots that never question anything.  Indeed, we “sway to the rhythm of the new world order”, and never question a thing.  Addictions rob us of life as we consume everything without a thought to the source.

So, don’t be the “pet” of some addiction.  Don’t be so transfixed by something that you fail to notice the evil and wrong that need to be battled.  Don’t go hide in a corner with your own numb pleasure.  Live.

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12. Gravity

The final song on “The Thirteenth Step” is a track full of weighty thought, emotional pleas, and new resolves.  “I choose to live” is the mantra that emerges here.  The addict that we have been following is finally submitting himself to pseudo forces of “gravity” that will finally bring him down from his high, whether that be rehab, his loved ones, or sheer determination.  He is finally surrendering to life.  He chooses to live now.

But what’s the worst part of finally living?  Life!  “Catch me, heal me, lift me back up to the sun/ Help me survive the bottom”.  We all need help surviving this life, but I believe a true understanding of who we are and a dedication to people are the two best things that will help us survive this wretched world.  We all live for something, but if we make that something nothing more than temporary matter, meaningless highs, or willful ignorance; then we will end up just as unhappy as this addict.  We will be lost.  We will have to find our way again and again and again.

If we submit, however, to something not of this world.  If we dedicate ourselves to the people that are like fragments of He who really matters, we won’t suffer addiction.  We won’t be confused and purposeless anymore.  We won’t be searching for the next best thing because we would have already found Him.  I was once confused and living life day after day in a never-ending cycle of mental and philosophical pain and turmoil.  Then I saw Jesus Christ for whom He truly is.  Not as most Christians would portray Him.  Not as most everyone would present Him.  No, as He truly is, and His presence helped me beat the addiction to pain, to depression, to bitterness.  You see, addiction to drugs is only a surface problem.  The reality lies much deeper.  Break free from the chains.

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