“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…”. So goes the introductory lyric of opening track “Bombs Away”, and a poignant notion it is. Eels have indeed been quiet for the last few years.
Wonderful, Glorious is somewhat of a milestone for Mark “E” Everett; Eels mastermind. It’s the band’s 10th full length album….the first being the classic Beautiful Freak way back in ’96. Since then, Eels have not quite reached the same heights. Dismissed cruelly by many as a poor man’s Beck, E has been languishing in relative obscurity for the past decade or so. Blinking Lights and Other Revelations was a step in the right direction, but highlights have been few and far between.
So then, does Wonderful, Glorious mark a new beginning for E?
Kicking off with the aforementioned “Bombs Away”, E announces to all and sundry that he’s back with a vengeance: “I’m no longer gonna keep my mouth shut…BOMBS AWAY!” A well placed opening track for sure as it grabs your attention, not only because of the forthright lyrics but also because it’s an eclectic, brooding track that features pounding drums, dreamy synths and a great surf inspired guitar line. A nice opening for sure….but I’ve reviewed several albums of late that started out promisingly, only to peter out into not very much.
The recording approach was quite different on this record compared to E’s usual method of composing and recording material meticulously. Most of the tracks were created by E and his band of merry Eels simply by jamming away happily until they came up with songs they liked. The lyrical approach is also interesting….they’re just snippets of E’s scrapbooks of poetry which is quite surprising as the lyrical content is one of the highlights of the album.
These approaches have worked spectacularly. E’s song writing is bang on the money and despite sounding a little aged in the vocal department (a little like an adolescent Tom Waits) the songs are superbly crafted. His slightly haggard sounding vocals really suit the plaintive and personal lyrics and the album is actually quite moving in parts.
Similarly impressive is the eclectic nature of the music. Incorporating elements of folk, garage rock, electronica and of course pop, the album sways and meanders along pleasantly with plenty of musical crescendos along the way. It’ll still draw comparisons to Beck and Air at times, but the former is busy releasing albums on sheet music only and the latter occupies an entirely different musical dimension…to any act on the planet.
This album is like an aural electric blanket. It’s warm and comforting…and the often bleak lyrics actually put you in a better place because….well, they make you feel like you’re livin’ the dream compared to THIS guy!
The Valium-like tranquillity induced by most of the album is brought to a slowly grinding halt by the chilling “True Original”. The most depressing track on the disc, it’s a harrowing tale of unrequited love…a clichéd topic no doubt, but E pulls it off brilliantly, and the tear-jerking chord progression works a treat. After this momentary plunge into desperation, the comparatively up-tempo fuzz fest “Open My Present” welcomes you back, with a grin and a wink, into the musical electric blanket that is Wonderful, Glorious.
There are a couple of filler tracks, but they’re somehow forgivable as this record is a very rewarding listen from start to finish. It’s also magnificently produced. All the instrumentation works together seamlessly and the overall result is an absolute credit to E and his assembled Eels.
Standout tracks are the great opener “Bombs Away”, the bizarre “Peach Blossom” which features E energetically rasping about different flowering plants(!) and of course the chilling “True Original”. Also noteworthy for their fantastic lyrics and arrangements are “On the Ropes”, “The Turnaround” and “I am Building a Shrine”. Strangely enough the closing title cut is pretty bland by comparison and is a slightly disappointing way to close the album.
However, any complaints are minor and this record marks an extremely strong return to form for Eels. It’s simply a very good album and features some of the best lyrics I’ve heard in a long, long time. This is all the more impressive given the application of what would appear to be a slightly haphazard method of song construction.
Well done E and co. Welcome back to critical and (hopefully) commercial success.