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First impressions: Eels – Wonderful, Glorious

17/02/2013
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eels

Wonderful, Glorius is the first Eels album in a while that’s been interesting to wait for. The last time Everett and his ragtag bunch of musical companions were with us, we were taken to a three-album journey spanning over a year. The 2009-2010 Hombre Lobo/End Times/Tomorrow Morning -trilogy was an impressive idea but less thrilling in practice: while the bookend albums were both good (End Times less so), only Hombre Lobo felt genuinely exciting, partly because of it being the trilogy’s best part and partly because it was the first in line and came with one hell of a lead single, and thus the expectation for it wasn’t tarnished by lacklustre preview material or disappointment over the previous albums. Despite its ambitious idea, the trilogy ended up feeling far less ambitious in execution and most of the time simply offered faces of Everett we had seen several other times before and often in a better form. So it is then that Wonderful, Glorious feels like a proper new chapter: his first conceptually unchained album in a long while that we knew nothing about in advance.

The curveball thrown here is that Wonderful isn’t actually taking new paths at all. In fact, sound-wise you could call it a condensation of the trilogy’s traits into one album, almost exactly how a lot of people wished the trilogy had been to begin with. Hombre Lobo’s raucous rock, End Times’ heart-in-sleeve mood pieces and Tomorrow Morning’s joyful frolic have come together, shook hands and formed an album together. In addition, it’s the latter two stylistics that make up the bulk of the album: the wild, fun rock and roll spirit of the brilliant preview single couple “Peach Blossom” / “New Alphabet” is largely limited to those two songs. With how the trilogy tended to only emphasise certain parts of the Eels sound repertoire rather than coming up with anything brand new, the condensation of those three albums into one effectively means that Wonderful, Glorious is as typical an Eels album as you can get.

The similarity with the album trilogy doesn’t end there either. Much like its predecessing three albums, Wonderful Glorious does things well but not so well that it would feel like a notably rewarding part of the discography. It has its great standout moments – the two singles, the title track, “The Turnaround” – that will gladly find their place on any self-made Eels compilation, but when fronted with the question why it should be picked over some of the other Eels albums, it can’t give a good answer: everything that’s going on in Wonderful has been done better on other Eels albums. Some artists thrive on being able to do the same thing over and over again without the shtick ever growing tired and Everett certainly has some very characteristic elements to his songwriting that bind together his whole career, but roughly the fourth album in a row using the same elements and delivered in the same way just doesn’t provide the excitement anymore. He’s not yet become completely monotonous in his songwriting and Wonderful is indeed an enjoyable album, but it’s not a particularly exciting or interesting experience and it doesn’t compell the listener to return to it over and over again. Admittedly this month has been a massively music-packed one and perhaps during a calmer period it will show its colours (this is a first impressions ramble, remember), but it’s definitely not been fighting strongly over getting my attention over its rivals.

In 2006 Everett released his magnum opus, the double album Blinking Lights and Other Revelations which laid out his entire life on a public table, scrawled across a thirty-odd songs and a personal, emotional narrative. He even called it “the mother of all Eels albums”. Ever since that, Everett has seemingly been cruising somewhat aimlessly, unsure of what exactly to do now that his biggest work is behind him. The trilogy’s hit and miss quality was easy to explain due to the three-disc nature, but Wonderful Glorious being somewhat disappointing underlines the feeling that Everett’s still not sure how to go further. It’s a nice album, if a disappointing one, and if you liked Eels before you’re bound to like at least something here, but Everett’s still not up to scratch and his trademark sound has changed into repeating himself. Enjoyable, Alright moreso.

A final, small word about the bonus disc the deluxe edition of Wonderful, Glorious comes packed with. The deal is fairly simple: a rather amusing intro, four studio tracks, four live cuts from the album trilogy tours, and four radio session cuts. All four sections are effectively the same: enjoyable cuts but nothing revelatory or essential. The studio tracks are fun (in particular the manic “Happy Hour”) but it’s easy to agree with Everett’s decision to leave them off the album proper, the live cuts stay close to the original studio versions but they have that wild Eels live energy to them and the stripped-down radio session material is likewise enjoyable but do not really offer anything the album takes didn’t already give; plus, the cover of “Summer in the City” somewhat trips on the fact that it’s a song that simply doesn’t lend itself to minimal, downbeat versions very well even if they’re performed by a charismatic master of minimal downbeatness such as Everett. In short, it’s a bonus disc that doesn’t particularly disappoint but if your copy does not come with it, you’re not really missing out on anything important either.


Peach Blossom

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