Sunday 3 February 2013

Album Review: Eels - Wonderful, Glorious

(Vagrant Records)

It's hard to believe that in 2013 we are now on to the 10th album release from Eels, the vehicle for the songs of Mark "E" Everett. Ever since shooting into the public consciousness in the late 90s with his alt-rock hit "Novocaine For The Soul", and since then has been releasing albums of a consistent quality, with "Electro-Shock Blues", the hopeful "Daisies of the Galaxy" and the primal "Hombre Lobo" being some of the strongest records in his back catalog. "Wonderful, Glorious" is the group's first album in three years, and sees Eels alternating between the familiar, the unfamiliar, and the downright unexpected.

"Nobody listens to a whispering fool", E informs us on the album's opening track "Bombs Away", which sets the stage for Eels' journey of the delicate, the rough, and everything in between. It's a brave introduction to the album, yet has a feeling of familarity about it, sounding like a slower, funkier version of "Cancer For the Cure".

And it is this feeling of familiarity that greets many of the songs on the record. As mentioned before, the album's lead track, "Peach Blossom", fits somewhere between the sound of  "Souljacker" and "Hombre Lobo",  "True Original" sounds like a retread of "Jeannie's Diary", whilst "Accident Prone" sounds very much like Eels by numbers.

That's not so say that this feeling of deja vu is detrimental to the record. The best song on the album, "On The Ropes", is a wonderful song about the light at the end of the tunnel, about not allowing yourself to let the world knock you down, which in many ways revisits the themes of "Daisies of the Galaxy". It is very much a song that would sound trite coming from other artists, yet when performed by Eels it most definitely works. 

Despite this familiarity, the album does go off into unexpected territory and flights of fancy, particularly in the album's latter half. "Stick Together" sounds like the theme to a 70s gameshow into a hand-clap centric finale over the course of 3 1/2 minutes, whilst "Open My Present" contains a central guitar riff that wouldn't go amiss on the latest Jack White release. E leaves the biggest surprise for last though. The title track and album closer "Wonderful, Glorious", Sees E & co veer off into a strange amalgamation of funk rock and Beatles-eque psychedelia. It's a highly unexpected album closer, yet it feels strangely apt for a record of this sort.

"Wonderful, Glorious" is an album of great duality, showing that ten albums in, Eels have managed to find the right balance between comfort and shock, light and dark, and rough and smooth. It might not have the big  hits of "Beautiful Freak", the immediacy of "Daisies of The Galaxy", nor the consistency of "Hombre Lobo", but it is an album that will find a place in the minds of E's devotees.

Released: 4th February 2013

Highlights: "Peach Blossom", "On The Ropes", "Wonderful, Glorious".

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