ALBUM REVIEW: Billy Howerdel – What Normal Was

Billy Howerdel is best known as the songwriter and guitarist for A Perfect Circle, the band he created with his good friend James Maynard Keenan (Tool / Puscifer) after they met when Tool were supporting Fishbone for whom Howerdel was a guitar tech in the early nineties, before sharing a house together in the Hollywood Hills. Howerdel would work on his early material while also engineering for the likes of David Bowie, Guns n’ Roses, and Nine Inch Nails

Over two decades later, What Normal Was (Alchemy Records / Rise Records/ BMG) is the debut album to be released under his own name, following an earlier ‘solo’ record under the Ashes Divide moniker. In fact What Normal Was was initially to be released as a second Ashes Divide record, until the connection with his youth that the songs were taking on changed his mind, feeling there was a purity to the music and his songwriting which felt right being self-titled. A surprising album it is too, closer to the synthwave sound of the eighties than anything he has released before, but also managing to be an eclectic and thoroughly intriguing listen, as Howerdel clearly draws inspiration from the many artists he has worked with over the years.

There is a melancholy that connects all ten tracks, starting with ‘Selfish Heart’ which instantly shows that Howerdel has a fine set of lungs on him, as he steps out from the shadow of one of the finest rock singers ever to grace a microphone, and delivers a strong vocal hook on the chorus. 

‘Free And Weightless’ shows a slightly more gothic edge to the sound with his love of The Cure clearly coming to the forefront, while the influence of Nine Inch Nails is also prominent, and unsurprising as Danny Lohner acts as co-producer. The song features another strong chorus and a pulsating bassline, making it a stand out track on the record for sure. Elsewhere he lets his lead guitar work flourish on ‘Beautiful Mistake’, introduces an eastern flavour with hints of spaced out, Stranger Things–esque tones on ‘EXP’, and leaves his grandest vocal performance till last, on the new romantic ‘Stars’. 


Throughout there are moments of softer electro-tinged, dark-pop in the vein of Depeche Mode, but it’s at is bleakest that the album flourishes and lead single ‘Poison Flowers’ is the perfect example, where a super-low bassline takes centre stage, the synths take on their eeriest tone, the electronic percussion takes on a trip-hop influence and where Howerdel’s vocals are at their most haunting. 

All of which combine to show that ‘heaviness’ in music, can come in many different forms. 

Buy the album here:


7 / 10