Maynard James Keenan’s metamorphosis from hard rock’s dark icon to humor-loving, passionate wine-maker has been a fascinating one. While his lighter side has always been hinted at in appearances on Mr. Show and other avenues during the 90s (trivia: Puscifer was first used as the title of the fake band Keenan was in during a Mr. Show skit), he was much more known for his dark, serious and cerebral work with Tool and then A Perfect Circle in the early 00s. But slowly, his humor started showing up in his music career. The video for A Perfect Circle’s “The Outsider” starred the Bikini Bandits and included a pimple-faced nerd bearing a name tag that read, “Maynard.” This man who had been something of a dark god to so many for so long was showing everyone he didn’t take himself so seriously and neither should you. Then, he re-used his Puscifer pseudonym again for solo work on track “Rev 22:20” for the Underworld soundtrack. Discontent with the confines of his current bands, he decided to make Puscifer the creative outlet for all things that didn’t fall into Tool or A Perfect Circle territory. The end result was V Is For Vagina, the 2007 album laden with sexual innuendos from start to finish with a good dose of religious irreverence thrown in for good measure.
It marked a radical departure for Keenan. His at times angelic voice was relegated to backing vocals and instead he growled and murmured in his deepest voice possible throughout. Some loved the bizarre new direction, appreciating the humor and hypnotic groove but others, usually the ones that took his words and music as gospel, thought he had completely lost it—that their idol had led them astray. But this wasn’t the only change in their idol. He bought land in Arizona and started Merkin Vineyards and Caduceus Cellars (details can been seen in the documentary Blood Into Wine). He claims the patience and virtues of wine-making helped him find an inner peace, even opting to no longer sing some earlier Tool material claiming that it didn’t help him (psychologically) anymore, so it certainly couldn’t help his audience. Tool and A Perfect Circle have occasionally resurfaced, but it’s clear that Puscifer, along with his wine ventures were his pet projects now. It is the place his creativity runs free and where he has…gasp…fun.
Conditions of My Parole creates a wildly eclectic yet ultimately satisfying album. The album careens from quiet folk to dance floor ready beats just in first track “Tiny Monsters.” From there “The Green Valley” starts like a Simon & Garfunkel ballad before veering into more familiar territory, “Monsoons” lives somewhere between New Order and Radiohead and “Horizons” could start its own genre called Ballad-Dub. The humor the goofy album cover would indicate doesn’t rear its head until lead single “Man Overboard” as Keenan appears to use nautical terminology to describe a sexual encounter (“all hands on deck” sounds a lot like something else). “Toma” would sit comfortably in A Perfect Circle’s catalog and should be a welcome track to longtime Keenan fans. “The Rapture” is one of the catchiest songs on the album and has a great vocal melody—a standout track for certain.
The best humor and perhaps even music too is saved for title track “Conditions for My Parole” as Keenan brings the album cover to life describing troubles with judges, lawyers, and fears of his woman actually being a zombie or Dracula. The guitar part sticks in your head and the melody is classic Keenan. It’s quickly becoming one of this journalist’s favorite tracks of the man’s entire career because of just how quick, funny and downright enjoyable it is.
With this great dose of humor out of the way the album takes a much more somber, contemplative tone as “The Weaver” is a beautiful existential journey similar in philosophy to previous Tool material and “Oceans” is an electronic folk ballad sweetened by wonderful female backing vocals. The album ends with “Tumbleweeds” as if to remind the listener of the album’s Arizona habitat. Female vocals shift to the forefront and she pleads for someone to “come on home” as a banjo softly plucks a mournful tune. It’s a beautifully understated song. Once finished the listener definitely feels as they’ve reached the end of a journey. One that necessitates and encourages repeated listens.
After so many years of internal questioning, struggle and strife, it seems like Keenan has focused his music on the things he values most: nature and laughter. I know it sounds like laughable hippy nonsense when concerning the man who wrote “Prison Sex” but think about it: the album repeatedly references water in its many forms, as well as valleys and vegetation. These are the things that would be vital to a man living off the land in a dry, arid climate. Intersperse some of the sexual humor Puscifer made its name with and you have modern-day Maynard James Keenan: no longer lurking in the dark recesses of the human consciousness but a man capable of balancing his light and dark sides and funnel each into worthwhile and varied music.
Written by Jarad Matula