Sad songs with angry words, upbeat sounds contradicted by fierce tones: Eels are back.
Jude Clarke 2013
The prolific Mark Everett, more usually known as E, has been writing and recording as Eels since 1996, when debut album Beautiful Freak garnered him acclaim and hits, including Novocaine for the Soul.
Between then and now, Eels albums have usually arrived at impressively regular one- or two-year intervals – although four years separated 2005’s Blinking Lights… and 2009’s Hombre Lobo. Everett often replays themes from his troubled past beside current issues, joined by a rotating cast of band members, himself the only constant.
Wonderful, Glorious is album number 10, and, in tone and voice, immediately recognisable as an Eels release. Sad-sounding songs with angry words (On the Ropes’ “I’m hurting bad and I’m fighting mad”) meet others like New Alphabet, where E’s upbeat outlook (“You know what? I’m in a good mood today”) contradicts the fierce tone of the delivery.
Bombs Away just sounds plain cross, both in tone and its defiant, “I’ve had enough of being a mouse,” no-more-Mr-Nice-Guy message. Up-tempo moments like this, Stick Together and Open My Present are often more satisfying than slower efforts, like the ponderous Accident Prone.
On the Ropes, though, bucks this trend. A soft and tender song, E’s voice takes on the grizzled, careworn voice of an old-time country singer as he tells, with a resigned melancholy, of his “tired heart”, on what is a clear high point of the set.
Peach Blossom, with its headache-buzz of bass and repeated inducement to “Open the window man, and smell the peach blossom,” is also good, its debt to The Stranglers’ Peaches evident but not overwhelming. I Am Building a Shrine brings an interesting psychedelic wash in its sound, as E considers “All the love you bring me / All the tender words you sing me.”
Whilst not a recommended starting point for newcomers to Everett’s work (for that, try Beautiful Freak or its follow-up, Electro-Shock Blues), this is an album in which Eels followers will find much to enjoy. It continues the band’s long-running, idiosyncratic and distinctively creative career path.