Album Review: Eels – Wonderful, Glorious
OverviewGenre: Indie, Rock
Pros:A fine reintroduction for fans who shied away from some of the more sombre stuff post Beautiful Freak; a number of standout tracks.
Cons:The dark and cranky moments can get dull; not always a crowd pleasing effort; might need a second listen to get into.
The tenth album from morose-rock legends Eels is an uneven but worthwhile offering. Seán O’Toole reviews.
No matter how you want to dress it up, Eels is basically a man named Mark Everett, also known as E, a prolific songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who made a commercial breakthrough back in 1996 with the album Beautiful Freak, along with bassist Tommy Walter and drummer Butch Norman. The trio were responsible for the alternative hit ‘Novocaine For The Soul’, which launched the band as veritable indie rock up-and-comers.
Nominated for three MTV Video Music Awards and winning a BRIT Award the following year, Everett’s life hit a period of personal turmoil as he experienced the loss of both his mother and sister in quick succession. Electro Shock Blues, the group’s follow up album (minus Walter) was a much darker affair, influenced heavily by Everett’s personal tragedy.
Eels have maintained a consistent, albeit not as commercially friendly creative output, with a series of B-side albums and a concept trilogy arriving in more recent years. Wonderful, Glorious is the band’s tenth album, recorded in Silver Lake California and released on Vagrant Records. It comprises thirteen songs, including the album’s first two singles ‘Peach Blossom’ and ‘New Alphabet.’
The shift away from the radio friendly musings of Beautiful Freak continues as Everett adopts a slightly harder rock approach with his now signature idiosyncratic look at uncomfortable subject matter. There’s something of a Tom Waits tone to his voice in the early parts of the album- a sort of bluesy darkness that’s apparent from album opener ‘Bombs Away’. There’s an element present that Everett’s writing and composition have been largely shaped by tragedy and that his songcraft has been developed by how he deals with sombre themes.
The good news is that on Wonderful Glorious, E is well able to look at his themes without seeming excessively morose or cathartic. ‘Peach Blossom’ is a hard driving, fuzzed up and pounding rocker simply exploring how things in life may be harsh but at least flowers are pretty. ‘On The Ropes’ is an oddly but beautifully placed country-themed piece that is simultaneously jaded and wistful.
‘New Alphabet’ comes off as a snarling misfit of a song, which, oddly as a choice for a single, doesn’t do much to promote the albums listenability. The brighter moments on the album’s murkier tracks come in the form of brief cinematic audio punctuations which signify a slight mood shift. This technique doesn’t fully serve the songs as a whole but they are an interesting and much welcome break to some of the more lifeless parts on songs such as ‘New Alphabet.’
The Tom Waits influence comes back to good effect on ‘Open My Present’ and then disappears again with ‘You’re My Friend’ and its plodding, pleasant and positive electronic blend. The title track is the album’s winding, happy ending, compounding the idea of Eels as an artist who has one eye on the audience whilst focusing the other on sorting out his own stuff.
Wonderful, Glorious may not have the potential to be a spectacular mainstream comeback, but something tells me that may not have been E’s intention. Whatever the magic formula may be for indie bands du jour, there’s an intangible element in an Eels recording that is impossible to duplicate. More so, a new Eels album is always, at minimum, a solid effort and with Wonderful, Glorious, you get an impression of an artist having a lot of fun with his compositions.
Seán O’ Toole
Seán O’Toole is student journalist from Galway. Political views include: Bertie Ahern signing his booky wook in Easons; Mary Harney having her dinner one time in The Four Seasons; David Norris smiling and waving outside the Oireachtas; and Joan Burton giving filthy looks to young fellas in the Dáil Bar.