Album review: Eels, Wonderful, Glorious E Works (Vagrant)

4.00

 

Pop songwriting is a strange art, its success dependent on a popularity that tends to impose severe restraints on its themes, methods and language. Stray too far from the interface of Moon and June, and your chances are severely limited; yet too slavish an allegiance to the tried and tested bleeds the bittersweet tang of actual emotional connection from a song. When was the last time a pop song actually had you in tears?

For me, it was when as I was listening to Eels' aptly titled Wonderful, Glorious. Eels songwriter Mark “E” Everett has always trod a peculiar, idiosyncratic path that runs parallel to most pop music, but here he collides with it in such a tender, open way that the emotional hit of some songs is quite shocking: “True Original” and “You're My Friend”, in particular, are deceptively powerful, their simple statements of selfless devotion possessing the same kind of heart-swelling pleasure elicited by an old, old couple still obviously besotted with each other. They're about real love, enduring love, not the teenage infatuation version, and they're just beautiful.

Everett's usual emotional honesty elsewhere leads him to equally potent expressions of disappointment, regret, exhaustion, anger and, in “Kinda Fuzzy”, the more amorphous territory of mental cloudiness, “the dusty room of an aching mind”. The album opens in abrasive manner with the electronic snarl and tom-tom tattoo of “Bombs Away”, the singer determining to be more assertive after realising that “nobody listens to a whispering fool”; and in “The Turnaround”, the desperation of a similarly becalmed protagonist heats a stew of hope and resentment, which by the end appears to reach emotional escape velocity.

These are the poles between which the album is strung: the weary enervation of “Kinda Fuzzy”, “Accident Prone” and “On the Ropes” banished by the more bullish optimism of “Stick Together”, “True Original” and “You're My Friend”, a struggle fought out on terrain switching between big beats and brusque fuzz chords, and wan arpeggios and organ chords. But unlike most emotional battlegrounds traversed in pop, these songs leave scars.

Download: True Original; You're My Friend; Bombs Away; The Turnaround

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