|1. The Package|
|2. Weak And Powerless|
|3. The Noose|
|6. A Stranger|
|7. The Outsider|
|9. The Nurse Who Loved Me|
01. The Package - The lyrics sound like a drug addict's trip to a dealer and the craving for whatever it is he's jonesing for. The title: going in search of a package, of drugs.
02. Weak and Powerless - An illustration of the cotton mouth you get when you're anticipating something exciting (in this case taking the drug, but it's a feeling similar to talking to someone you're attracted to) with the knowledge that doing it is a very bad idea...but you want it anyway. The title: the feeling one gets when about to do something exhilarating.
03. The Noose - The disillusionment that follows a badly ended relationship, and how you find yourself appalled by someone you used to adore. This is quite likely a relationship that ended because of the main character's substance abuse problem, and the lyrics refer to the friend/significant other feeling shocked and disillusioned that someone they thought they knew could change so much. The title: the descent of the addict here is represented by death via noose (also the lyric about the halo slipping down).
04. Blue - Blissful ignorance followed by ignoring all the obvious signs of a problem. Also the rather obvious symbolism of someone who's not breathing turns blue. The title: the color one turns when suffocating.
05. Vanishing - The lyrics here sound a lot like the experience that someone who's high describes. The title: when (ab)users are high as a kite, the world around them seems to vanish, or alternatively they feel as though they vanish and the world is meaningless.
06. A Stranger - Denying that there's any problem when the facts point to a hardcore junkie, the realization that after you've turned away everyone who cares about you how alone you are and a hate for the drug you're addicted to. The title: how the addict has become a stranger to everyone, including himself.
07. The Outsider - The character from 'The Noose' reappears here and tries to help the addict. Frustration and a strong level of bitterness quickly set in, and the character feels that the addict is a self-centered arse. They are also pissed off about the addict's complete unwillingness to help themselves. The title: An outsider looking in on a problem and trying to help without understanding.
08. Crimes - The lyrics are literally just counting 1-10, so it's a bit difficult to fit this one into the narrative. Perhaps it's the friend/ex practicing the time-tested strategy of counting to ten to calm down. The title: the friend/ex feels guilt over their reaction (in the previous song).
09. The Nurse Who Loved Me - The culmination of the addiction reaching it's highest (or lowest) point, in a massive overdose. The title: the fondness and attachment that grows between the caregiver and the one who feels vulnerable; in this case strictly one way: the addict feeling that the care he's receiving is representative of love.
10. Pet - The friend/ex talking to and consoling the hospitalized post-OD addict. The title: ?
11. Lullaby - The only lines in this are "go back to sleep," presumably an extension of Pet in that the addict's friend/ex is essentially telling the freshly OD'd addict to rest. The title: a lullaby is just something to soothe someone and ease them into sleep.
12. Gravity - The empowerment and fragility of someone recovering from substance abuse. The addict finally enters rehab or AA and finds themselves faced with the exhilarating high of being free of addiction, and the terror of possibly slipping back down. The title: the addict coming to terms with reality, and escaping from the surreal unreality of addiction.
As far as the album title itself goes, I really feel that 'Thirteenth Step' is a pretty obvious play on words with the twelve step program that millions of people enter into to help themselves deal with whatever problem it is that might be plaguing them. The fact that it's 13 rather than 12 is just an extension of the addict's feelings (ie: I have the worst of luck). It also seems to me that the album's 13th step (as in, there's 12 tracks on the CD) would be the beginning of recovery for the addict, and a commencement of a 12 step recovery program.
Even the album cover supports the notion of substance abuse, in that the slug is very similar in appearance (color excepted) to a leech. And a leech is pretty obvious symbolism for a drain on one's life, something that a dependency on drugs and/or alcohol clearly is.
Is this enough to qualify it as a conceptual album? I don't know. But I reckon so, and if you've missed this album you've missed out.
On to the album. What makes this album so good is not the fact that Maynard is singing (I'm not dissing him- I have a great respect for him, in fact) but his contributions to the overall mood of the album as a whole. The whole album is one giant drug record (think the Cure but about chemicals not women) and Maynard adds tension to the atmosphere by sounding haunted when he sings on "The Package" and "Pet".
Speaking of the former, I think that it's the centerpiece of this tremendous piece of music. The song begins with a simplistic drum beat, sludgy bass line and guitars that whisper in the background, all while Maynard sounds like he's in withdrawl. The song builds to a climax like a great suspense novel when the guitars kick in with a crunchy riff. Following the "novel" motif, the song then declines back into what it was in the beginning. All in all, a very quick 7 minute song.
"Pet," on the other hand jumps right in from the start with a 2-guitar riff: one low-end riff that sounds like it was written by Tony Iommi and the other guitar making this great accompanying wail. The verses and choruses have this soft-loud dynamic that is shared in "The Package" with the verses being very soft lulling you to sleep (like in the lyrics) and the chorus waking you back up like a punch in the face. All this, again, while Maynard sings about protecting someone from "the bogeyman" amongst other things.
But that's not the whole album, as evidenced by other reviews. There are some songs that resemble the Cure more closely ("Blue" and "The Noose") and Tool- how odd- ("The Outsider") "The Nurse Who Loved Me" is the one happy point in the album with strings, which comes as a nice break in the massive about of umcomfortability.
The one comlaint that I have is just a preference problem. I like the remix of "Weak and Powerless" better than the album version and I wish that they would've included in on the album itself (though it is on my version).