Review Summary: Turn that frown upside downWonderful, Glorious
’ opening track, “Bombs Away”, presents itself as a statement of intent. Mark Everett, otherwise known as the pretty much unsearchable ‘E’, is a bundle of passive aggression. Declaring himself “tired of being complacent” he warns his listeners that “the walls are gonna fall.” That’s fighting talk from alt rock’s own Eeyore, but is this an overdue about turn from the man most famous for wallowing in the gloom?
Eels’ last LP, the sprightly and hopeful Tomorrow Morning
, offered something of a reprieve for fans who had previously laboured under the weight of vicarious misery; Everett’s own heart-wrenching life providing the backdrop for any number of slooooow one-man-and-his-guitar odes to loneliness. With Wonderful, Glorious
, there is a keen sense of bombast, playfulness and real energy. The pounding drums and filthy organ stabs on “Peach Blossom” may well owe a debt to The Black Keys’ most recent efforts (particularly “Gold On The Ceiling”), and while it may be old hat to some, it’s a welcome break from what we have come to expect from this most slippery of projects.
Indeed, it is Everett’s occasional reversions to his tried and tested formula that provides the album’s more forgettable moments. “On The Ropes” is little else but another ‘small fish in a massive pond’ hard luck story that grates easily. Following immediately, “The Turnaround” does more of the same, except with a little move towards something more epic towards the end; encompassing strings and a soaring vocal. It doesn’t particularly work. If anything, it’s the home listening equivalent of heading to the bar or the toilet. Or both at the same time. It’s a crazy world out there.
Luckily, there’s enough good on this album to hide the negatives. “New Alphabet” is the sound of a world-weary individual starting to make sense of the whole ‘existence’ thing. “When the world stops making sense/just taking what you can get/when the people out on the street start looking like silhouettes/when the words just sound like noise I’ll make a new alphabet” intones Everett, backed once more by resonant drums and a nifty little guitar hook to keep it all in check. He might not be exactly single and ready to mingle, but it feels like rock’s own Unabomber is ready to leave his shack and blink into the light.
If we are to play the comparison game, the first and perhaps most obvious one is Tom Waits. Both are artists driven by a singular, obdurate and wonderful vision, expressed in any number of ways. It was Waits’ wife, Kathleen Brennan, who proffered the opinion that the ol’ sandpaper chewer himself wrote only two kinds of songs: “Grand weepers and grim reapers.” Everett and Waits might well view themselves as poles apart, but it’s not hard to see how they can make strange bedfellows. Whether Everett can mimic Waits’ staying power and chameleon-like musicianship remains to be seen, but on this evidence, things are finally looking well and truly up for the perpetual Mr. E.