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Eels – [Album]

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Sunday, 03 February 2013

After spending the better part of three years recalling the high and low points of his personal and professional lives with meticulous care and knee-buckling candor (see the Eels' greatest hits and B-sides/rarities compilations, Meet The Eels and Useless Trinkets, as well as an autobiography, Things The Grandchildren Should Know) and then composing and releasing a sprawling and dramatic trilogy of albums (Hombre Lobo, End Times and Tomorrow Morning), there was no question that singer Mark Oliver Everett had ascended to an all-new (and peerless) plain of rock stardom. After surveying all of that though, there was no doubt in the minds of some fans that Everett needed to lighten up and let go of the reigns a bit; he needed to have some fun with his music, relax and blow off a bit of steam. The singer has indulged moments like this before (see Souljacker and Shootenanny) but, rather than simply retreading his own working trends again, Everett has gone a bit further (and, ironically gotten a bit simpler) with Wonderful, Glorious; while Souljacker and Shootenanny both rode the novelty of being instant records which were made and released in a hurry, Wonderful, Glorious proves that Eels can still make a single, self-contained album of the band's own brand of off-beat alt-rock and have it be perfectly satisfying in its own right.

The idea is so simple that it's almost laughable, but there's also a profundity in it which has evaded a large number of rock musicians over the last ten years.

From the moment “Bombs Away” opens the record, Mark Everett basically outlines exactly what listeners can expect from Wonderful, Glorious. The singer makes it pretty clear that he has no desire to over-think the album's creation, or over-saturate it with ambition when he says:

“Nobody listens to a whispering fool,
Are you listening? I didn't think so.
I've been quiet as a church house mouse
Tiptoeing everywhere I go.
I've had enough of being complacent,
I've had enough of being a mouse.
I'll no longer keep my mouth shut,
Bombs away! Gonna shake the house.”

Talk about a pretty clear and direct mission statement for how an album is going to operate.

As “Bombs Away” seethes its way along, listeners will find that the excitement in them is building, and it's justified – there's a certain infectious glee in these tones and timbres. This is the sound of Everett playing with his fans and smiling as he does it; he spent years as the serious artist who examined his life and own manner from several different angles, but now he just wants to show his fans that he can shake them down to their foundations with a rock song. And then he does it again with the molten, sardonic soul of “Kinda Fuzzy,” and it's great. After just those first two songs, listeners will know exactly why they should be getting excited about Wonderful, Glorious; there is no thematic connective tissue which holds one song to the other, they're just two strong alt-rock songs. That simple departure is revelatory; after the last six years of storylines and grandiose concepts designed to build into a series of  climaxes of increasing size, these two simple rock songs seem huge and revelatory because they're just simple, and simply good, songs. They're fun and that fun comes easy.

That element of 'just being fun' keeps coming through in easy song on Wonderful, Glorious – no matter which way the music turns. When Everett shifts into a sweet and heartfelt mood on the perfectly unlikely ballad “Accident Prone" (where the singer almost seems to giggle out lines like “A happy accident, me running into you”), everyone – both the singer and those listening – easily share a smile and a feel-good moment, and when the singer cranks up the volume on the positively anthemic rocker “Peach Blossom,” listeners will find they have to actively resist the urge to stomp their feet along with the song's kick-ass beat. When he revisits the authoritative voice of the underdog determined to overcome all of his emotional hangups in “On The Ropes” (which boasts some fine singalong lyrics like “Every time I find/ myself in this old bind/ watching the death of my hopes/ In the ring so long/ Gonna prove 'em wrong/ I'm not knocked out but I'm on the ropes”) and then gets down with his bad self in the Waits-ian groove of “New Alphabet” before simmering with the same vibe on “Open My Present,” listeners will be able to feel it in the pits of their stomachs. The ease with which Mark Everett commands to different emotional senses and encapsulates them into tight songs without allowing them to spill over into each other isn't really surprising (he's done it on other records before) but, after the several-years-running exercise that Everett's autobiography and the concept album trilogy turned out to be, this return to basics – to simple and simply skewed pop song structures and dynamics – feels fantastic and refreshing, and long-time fans will find themselves loving it.

As refreshing as fans may find it, Wonderful, Glorious has an added benefit for the band. The beauty of this album for the band is that it proves following an ambitious project with something even bigger (or at least comparable) isn't always necessary; Wonderful, Glorious proves that following a dramatic endeavor like the Eels' concept album trilogy with a simple collection of great songs can prove not to feel like a letdown or like a step backwards. that is the greatest achievement of Wonderful, Glorious; unlike Green Day – who have floundered and fumbled with increasingly large endeavors since the release of American Idiot – Eels prove that simply presenting an excellent set of songs can be the perfect follow-up to a mammoth and ambitious project. In that way, Wonderful, Glorious lives up to its name.

Artist:

www.eelstheband.com/
www.myspace.com/eels
www.facebook.com/THEEELS
www.twitter.com/THE_EELS

Download:

Eels – "New Alphabet" – Wonderful Glorious[mp3]
Eels – "Peach Blossom" – Wonderful, Glorious[mp3]

Further Reading:

Ground Control Magazine – Eels Discography Review (Part One)
Ground Control Magazine – Eels Discography Review (Part Two)

Album:

Wonderful, Glorious
will be released on February 5, 2013 by Vagrant Records. Pre-order it here on Amazon .

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Eels – [Album]

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Saturday, 16 January 2010

How unusual it is for a songwriter to jump from the beginning of a love affair or relationship to the spirit crushing failure and inevitable fallout of it with no notice afforded to or mention of the days of discovery and blissful moments in between. It seems like that would be an important detail wouldn't it? In order to best experience the bitter, shouldn't there be a sampling of the sweet – if only for contrast? Such a jump seems like it would be a reductive countervail under most circumstances, but it is the jump that songwriter Mark Oliver Everett and the Eels have made just six months between the releases of Hombre Lobo and End Times.

The difference between the two albums is complete and noticeable from every angle as one approaches the albums; one sports a bright yellow cover and stark design while the other is presented with a dark blue and caricature illustrations of a figure that it can be presumed is supposed to be Everett. It doesn't get much more different than that.

…And then there's the music.

As it turns out, the music on Hombre Lobo was incredibly jubilant – in contrast to what would follow it. In songs like “Prizefighter,” “Tremendous Dynamite” and “What's A Fella Gotta Do,” Everett kicked up an ecstatic cloud of dust and he posed, postured, hooted and hollered before the object of his affection and, when that didn't win her, he got sweet and bore his soul to her for “In My Dreams” and “The Look You Give That Guy.” Hombre Lobo was an album truly deserving of the subtitle “12 Songs Of Desire.”

End Times represents the anti-thesis of Hombre Lobo. Only six months after the release of its counterpart, End Times actually picks up the story after the breakup – when all the protagonist has left are memories of the good times – but not so long after that the wounds have healed, any of the pieces have been picked up or our hero is feeling even passably whole again. Rather, the emotional center of End Times resides in that point when all the fury, finger-pointing blame and name-calling have been exhausted and all our hero is left with is the resigned reflex (not so much a desire) to carry on. It's softer and more mid-tempo than its counterpart; End Times is defined by a more reflective and introspective air as songs like “The Beginning,” “In My Younger Days” and the title track find Everett painfully introspective on the mic, backed by spare, intimate instrumental assistance. Like any man in the throes of heartache, the album doesn't always stay in that dour place (“Gone Man” strikes the image of our hero getting out to some backwoods honky tonk for some distraction) but never treads far from it and, no matter where the character ventures, the draw back to loneliness, misery and a brand of reflection that borders on self pity is irresistible.

As the album progresses beyond the poignant (for this narrative) spoken word take “Apple Trees,” there is the impression left that a healing process has begun, even if it is tentative. The line, “I'm gonna raise my head/ I may not be in paradise/ but I'm not dead” from “Paradise Blues” is apt; there, the singer concedes that the whole situation sucks, but the notion of continuing on seems less laughable and also implies that the singer is intent on leaving his troubles behind. The results of those endeavors are mixed, of course – the mania of Unhinged” sets a striking contrast against the church bells, rain and raging pathetic fallacy of “High And Lonesome” and against the plea for maternal care and understanding in “I Need A Mother” – but the psychological turmoil is beginning to fade and the songs are coming back to the Eels' center. That return is complete by “Little Bird,” which features familiar lyrical colors and sonic motifs and, by “On My Feet,” the character is very literally so; he is not as good as new – as with all of Everett's characters, there's still an irreparable fracture in him – but he's on his way to normal. That's reassuring somehow.

So, for whatever it's worth, yes End Times is an odd release to follow a blustering album brimming with boasts like Hombre Lobo, but it does fit an abbreviated continuity, does present a story arc (even if it is a curve back to center) and does leave listeners eager to find out what's next. The Hombre Lobo/End Times saga of love discovered and love lost has been endured, which leaves the field wide open for the Eels to go freely and easily in any direction that moves them next time around.

Artist:

www.eelstheband.com/

www.myspace.com/eels

Download:

Eels – “Little Bird” – End Times


Further Reading:

Ground Control's review of Hombre Lobo.

Album:
End Times is released on January 19, 2010. Pre-order it here on Amazon .

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Eels – [Album]

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Friday, 08 February 2008

For a musician as notoriously reclusive as Eels frontman Mark Oliver Everett, the idea of a collection of outtakes and discarded ideas is an incredibly salacious one. Eels records have always been disarmingly candid to begin with so presumably anything the singer initially deemed inappropriate was either too personal (if such a feat is possible) or so far out in left field as to be laughably improper (if such a term even fits). At its core, both of those things and more are true of Useless Trinkets—a set that goes well beyond a run-of-the-mill odds and sods collection. Clocking in at two CDs (fifty tracks total) with an additional DVD chronicling the band’s performance at Lollapalooza 2006, Useless Trinkets goes in every imaginable direction at once but none of them play exactly true to the band’s image and ends up being remarkably engaging if you’re willing to follow the songs down the rabbit hole. If you do that, you’ll realize that while the set is unwieldy, it’s also poetic.

Useless Trinkets issues its letter of intent from the stripped down and lobotomized version of “Novocaine For The Soul” that opens disc one of the set and from there the journey begins; alternate versions of “My Beloved Monster,” “Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues” and “Souljacker part 1” shine light on the darkened corners of the songs, not to demystify them, but to offer more insight and re-envision the image of their writer. From there, Everett and the band explore the avoided avenues in their body of work to incredibly dramatic effect. On the songs fans will know, they expand upon the number of possibilities (the annexed “Susan’s Apartment” and “Mr. E’s Beautiful Remix,” which sounds more fitting to the themes and sonic motifs on Daisies Of The Galaxy than the version that appeared on that album) and essentially blow them up; intimating that nothing is set in stone in the world of Eels. Under that rationale, it's entirely possible that those tracks that won the band their fanbase may have won a completely different one had Everett arbitrarily decided to release different versions of them. The live tracks operate in a similar way, too. Like the unreleased tracks and b-side cuts, the ones taken from live shows further reveal the temporary nature of these songs’ arrangements and beautifully offer different interpretations of songs you’ve already heard but might not recognize.

While it seems like it would be an unlikely addition, Useless Trinkets is an absolutely essential volume for any Eels fans. That bit probably won’t shock any fans or people unfamiliar with the band, but what will surprise everyone is the validity of Useless Trinkets—unlike so many other albums of its type, this one has the potential to draw new fans as well as appease existing ones. The pastiche nature of the record approaches Eels’ body of work from every angle imaginable, but doesn’t lose sight of the foundations that got people behind the band in the first place. That universal quality holds a universal appeal that anyone listening can recognize and, for the willing, lose themselves in.

For more information visit www.eelstheband.com or myspace.com/eels

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