05 Mar, 2013

Eels – “Wonderful, Glorious”

Eels - Wonderful GloriousEels’ magnum opus was 2005’s double-album Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, a strange assemblage of tunes that aren’t quite rock and aren’t really pop and certainly aren’t noise. Like much of Eels’ work, Blinking Lights explores resilience in a fresh and novel way; it wears its heart on its sleeve but doesn’t come off as trite. Mark Oliver Everett (or simply E) followed the album not with an album but a memoir, where he revealed the staggering tragedies–all medical, all unrelated–that hit his family prior to his work on album.

So after ten albums, twenty years of music and one hell of a story, I can’t help but feel like Eels is an exercise in resiliency. E is back after a three-year silence with his tenth album Wonderful, Glorious. It’s consistently good, and the material is fresh enough that it’s clear it came from a unique set of recording sessions. But for those who have stuck around with E for more than a few spins, this album can’t be called revelatory.

The form that’s made former Eels albums work so well is still intact here. E strikes a chord with listeners by taking friendly rock song structure, filling them to the brim with dissonance and sing/talking over them in his gnarled, world-weary, perpetually bearded voice. He rounds out the work with understated, guitar-driven ballads that might work so well because they sound effortless. In short, the man knows his sound, and it works. The lyrical content that got me excited about the Eels around the release of Blinking Lights is still around, too: E is still falling in an out of love, and the man remains enthralled by the profundity of existence.

So why am I just a little disappointed by Wonderful, Glorious? Why does this album feel hackneyed and too-familiar only weeks after its release? Maybe it’s because I have too much faith in E. I genuinely believe the man is wickedly smart and brutally creative and more than anything dangerously resilient–so I wish this release was something I could honestly call challenging. This album is too easy for me or for anyone familiar with his work. I have so much faith in the man that I feel his potential to challenge himself 20 years into his career has got to be greater.

The problem with Wonderful, Glorious isn’t the album itself, because there’s nothing wrong with the release. The problem is that the album feels so automatic that it quickly becomes stale.

Review by Joey Gargotto.

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