Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Eels - Wonderful, Glorious


Eels are one of America's many indie rock bands with more than vocal harmonies and love songs. Instead of surf or garage rock at the heart of their output, Eels like to do things a little differently. If I was to classify Eels among other artists, I would put them somewhere between Beck and The Flaming Lips. They're not exactly psych, but they're not anti-folk either. Eels are among an elite group of American artists that are serious, bold and ever so easy to disregard as boring. The National, Interpol, The Dave Matthew's Band... Eels. When I was at Latitude Festival in 2011, I decided to give Eels a miss in favour of seeing Suede, I'm sure Eels would have been more exciting, though I'm not sure, especially considering their previous albums have been dire. The five piece are back for the first time in three years with their 10th studio album, and it’s growing old already.

It's not that I have a problem with Eels, or to single him out Mark Oliver Everett, better known as E. The album does actually start off well with "Bombs Away". E's fuzzy vocal grows on the listener, as does the thumping percussion and fuzzed up guitars. These tracks start off reasonably okay, but end on high points. Wonderful, Glorious has to be the first Eels album that keeps the listener entertained throughout. "Kinda Fuzzy" reads my mind, fuzz. Keyboard riffs enter, as do the layered E vocals. Like before, this track ends with noise, so much noise. I like this easy, slow start and manic ending to tracks. I'm not convinced by the lighter, Elvis Costello type tracks on Wonderful, Glorious, "Accident Prone", "On the Ropes" and "True Original". They're not as thought provoking or enticing as the louder Eels tracks. If I'm going to be put through 50 minutes of Eels, I want some noise for goodness sake. "Peach Blossom" does just that. Loud drums with reverb, a guitar that actually could find itself on a Flaming Lips record and a spacious vocal that E delivers like the strong vocalist he is. 

The first half of "The Turnaround" is just like "Accident Prone". For some reason, I'm hearing Robbie William on these slow, soft rock type tracks. Even when the final third kicks in with the hook, I'm still hearing Robbie Williams, it's peculiar, but I guess Eels aren’t the left-field of artists and 90s Robbie Williams isn't the poppiest either. Please don't take offence by that... I'm content with hearing tracks like "Stick Together" all day every day. The drumming makes the listener get up and start dancing, as do the light reverberated guitars on the left side of the recording. E sings with passion and delivers his best vocal on the album. He sounds comforting, without shouting with lo-fi like fuzz and extra layers. This is the strong point to Wonderful, Glorious. Eels know how to write a decent song and they deliver on many occasions, this is one of them. 

Wonderful, Glorious is different to the concept trilogy, you have to go back eight years to Blinking Lights and Other Revelations to even relate to Wonderful, Glorious; and even then you find a double album by an indie rock band. A further two years will take you back to one of the worst Eels albums, Shootenanny! and another two years for the filler Souljacker. Basically, Eels have a bad catalogue of average albums and concepts. They used to be great, back in 1996 and 1998 with their first two solid albums Beautiful Freak and Electro-Shock Blues. It's always hard for artists to go back to the drawing board and create something better than they've already created. Think of how Noel Gallagher felt in 2000, he still hasn't gotten over how Oasis failed to reproduce a Definitely Maybe or (What's The Story) Morning Glory? And (god help me) I'm using Oasis as a comparison to Eels here. Wonderful, Glorious is the Beady Eye of Eels' catalogue. E never sounds believable or relatable. Only on "I Am Building a Shrine" does he put across a vocal that suits his lyricism. And his lyricism has drastically dropped on this album. There are no clear quotes to be taken from E's lyrics on Wonderful, Glorious, apart from the few moments of beauty on the back tracks. E sings: "All the love you bring me, all the tender words you sing me. And all the suns within your smile," he sings it well, but he still sounds cheerful. If we go back to Frightened Rabbit's fourth album Pedestrian Verse, there was a striking and memorable lyric right from the off, and that's what separates a good singer-songwriter album from a dud. 

Eels have all the instrumentals wound up, spick and span. I can't plug holes in their fantastic production and excellent guitar effects. They know how to record tracks and they do it well in E's home studio with E producing the album. Wonderful, Glorious is the outcome of an Eels jamming session and a post-jam lyric addition. This works on certain occasions, but you can really hear that some of these lyrics are not intended for the cheery instrumentation. Even on the self-titled closer E sounds a little too excited and happy for his notebook of personal lyrics. 

I'm just not feeling Wonderful, Glorious. I don't think I've 'felt' an Eels album since 1998, and that's quite a long time ago, same with Oasis... (If we're still doing that comparison thing.) Honestly, my favourite Eels recording has to be their cover of Daniel Johnston's "Living Life". It's a track written with emotion, power and with a whole lot of guts. DJ delivers it like a true honest musician, and E covers it with the same conviction and energy as DJ's original. I'm telling you this because Wonderful, Glorious is an empty album without deep tracks and ear catching lyricism. The instrumentals are spot on and that’s where the majority of my praise is directed, the way everything comes together is somewhat off-putting and typical of the post-1998 Eels. 
~Eddie

4.9

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