Album: Eels

Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, DREAMWORKS
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The Independent Culture

"It blows my mind that people want to try and get inside my tiny head," marvelled Eels' Mark Everett on 2003's mordant Shootenanny! - prompting the thought that, if his head were really to be considered that tiny, how on earth do we manage to even see the average pop star's head without an electron microscope? For there's clearly rather more going on within Everett's supposedly tiny mind than in most of his fellow musicians'.

Then again, he's had more to think about than most, having suffered the bereavement of virtually his entire close family in just a few years. His 1998 album Electro-Shock Blues was an attempt to cope with the almost simultaneous deaths, from illness and suicide respectively, of his mother and sister, by giving them a posthumous voice. But he's still struggling to come to terms with the loss, particularly since the subsequent death of his cousin, a flight attendant on the plane flown into the Pentagon. (His father, quantum theorist Hugh Everett III, died in 1982.)

Blinking Lights and Other Revelations is Everett's more considered survey of the ramifications of his bereavements, a 33-track double-album which he's been working on intermittently since 1997. Combining his usual dark, sardonic musings with metaphorical observations of others' lives and a few gentle instrumentals picked out on autoharp, organ or mellotron, it's an album stalked by ghosts, but redeemed by his resolution to battle through the slings and arrows of outrageous torment. "Things don't get better until they get much worse/ Am I stronger than the curse?" he wonders at one point.

It seems touch and go for much of the album. There's enough pain in a song like "Last Time We Spoke" to float an entire Coldplay album, while suicide seems only seconds away from "The Stars Shine In The Sky Tonight". But the mournful tenor is balanced by moments of epiphanic grace, spunky anger and hard-won wisdom, concluding with his determination to re-socialise himself in "Things The Grandchildren Should Know". The key track in this regard is "Hey Man (Now You're Really Living)", a bright, poppy number in which he learns to regard the extremes of emotional turbulence, both joy and despair, as evidence that "now you're really living".

Blinking Lights and Other Revelations is a moving meditation on loss, couched in arrangements which range from orchestrated piano ballads to declamatory rock anthems, from fragile filigrees of glockenspiel or autoharp to jog-along country-rockers smeared with lap-steel guitar. All things considered, the prognosis looks good: one can but concur with Everett when he muses that "it's looking like my losing streak is done". Here's hoping.