Eels are an institution now, active for nearly a quarter of a century, and here with their 12th album proper (not to mention countless compilations, live recordings and contributions to soundtracks and tribute albums etc…). Add the fact that a lot their subject matter is about death, lost love, suicide, mental illness, i.e., the institutionalised, and their place as songsmiths for the disaffected and lonely is easy to understand. And here on this album, it is frankly and thankfully, business as usual. Saying that makes it sound like I don’t wish E peace and happiness, of course I do, though its doubtful this art would exist as such a crucial happening.
Some instrumental passages/numbers punctuate the album in short bursts, not an essential move but one that suits the mood. ‘Premonition’ shows the light/dark feel of Eels perfectly, a hymnal gentle guitar motif with choral like backing vocals under the hook ‘I had a premonition, it’s all gonna be fine, you can kill or be killed, but the sun’s gonna shine’. If you’ve not read any of main man Mark ‘E’ Everett’s musings on his life and the troubled family history he has come through, then you really should (’Things The Grandchildren Should Know’). A short, not physically taxing read that has a weight that makes a feel of a much larger book, his well-written prose is a perfect companion to virtually any Eels release.
The music throughout is both informed by the modern whilst pinioned by nostalgic tips of the hat. Strings are heavy, choral subtexts never far from the surface, without ever feeling saccharine or trite. And moods swing, the mellow, funereal ‘The Epiphany’ leaps straight into the pop blast of ‘Today is the Day’, handclaps, riffs and twee keyboards. This jaunty little number leads into ‘Sweet Scorched Earth’, ‘I love the way your hair falls on your eyes, and the way the sun hits them as it dies, there’s poison in the water and the sky’. This is Eels, I wouldn’t have it any other way. This is all wrapped up in an orchestral chamber pop package that sounds like it’s being played by angels.
But negatives are always counter balanced with hope and a positive. Birdsong interlude is followed by ‘Be Hurt’. ‘Come on be hurt, you know you can take it’ is finished with ‘and I’m not gonna let it destroy you’. E has really become the perfect singer for all this bitter sweetness. His delivery is always assured and concise. The following track declares ‘in your darkest night of the soul, you are the shining light’ over more handclaps and a Motown beat’. ‘There I said It’ is basically ‘I Love you, there I said it’ as a song, albeit a morose piano ballad song.
‘Archie’ is a lullaby for E’s son, born when his father was 54. At 55 now, E and Archie’s mother have divorced. The final filmic instrumental ‘The Unanswerable’ should have bled (instead there’s a pause) in to the closing ‘In Our Cathedral’, a battening down of the hatches manifesto. This is Eels first album in four years, quite a gap for a prolific artist/band. They’re on such great form here that I hope that either they don’t take four more to return, or if they do then that record is as considered and finely crafted as this one, a truly latter day classic Eels album.