Multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Billy Howerdel’s role in A Perfect Circle is sometimes overshadowed by the band’s more famous frontman, Tool’s Maynard James Keenan. Thus, his first solo album, What Normal Was, allows him to nab more the spotlight amidst showcasing a broader musical range.
Specifically, it sees Billy and several terrific guests tapping into moodier and sparser arrangements brimming with shadowy synths, haunting vocals, programmed beats, and the like. Initially slated to come out under his Ashes Divide alias, he felt that its sound was “closer” to his “musical DNA,” so he wanted to use his own name.
Indeed, the whole record oozes intimacy and integrity, as if Billy is filtering his biggest influences into distinctive and earnest outlooks. Opener Selfish Hearts is perhaps the best example of this since its fusion of symphonic, electronic and industrial instrumentation and captivating hooks yields a movingly inventive experience.
Some other tracks, such as Ani, The Same Again, and Follower, arguably follow the same template a bit too closely. However, they’re still quite good, and they do enough on their own to standout with unique emotional vibes and nuances.