Monday, October 22, 2012

Artist Of The Day: Eels

Even in this age of social networking and avid fan engagement, Mark Oliver Everett (aka, E) remains defiantly old-school. It's hardly out of character - this, after all is the man who wanted Eels' debut album to sound like one of his old, worn out cassettes - but it does mean followers experience a sharp rush of excitement on the rare occasion one of his various outlets does spring to life. That much was evident on Friday when, for the first time in well over a year, the elusive songwriter submitted a tweet. Yes, a real digital tweet. The message in question ("Hi.") could scarcely have been more ambiguous, but the sense of inevitability surrounding it was backed today by confirmation his band's 10th studio album is well on its way. Entitled Wonderful, Glorious, it's due on February 5, and will mark the first Eels release since the Hombre Lobo, End Times and Tomorrow Morning trilogy of '09 and '10. As a shameless worshipper of all things E, I for one can't wait.

If you're unfamiliar with his/their work, here's a quick guide to get you started:

Beautiful Freak (1996)
Having fallen short of commercial forecasts with his brief solo career, E was persuaded to re brand himself as the leader and sole creative force of a three-piece group, Eels. Showcasing the Virginian's songwriting genius as well as a seamless chemistry with initial bandmates Tommy Walter and Jonathan "Butch Norton, Beautiful Freak represented a truly excellent start, and in "Novocaine For The Soul" brought the success both E and his label craved. Subsequently overshadowed by Beck and his album Odelay!, this is nevertheless essential slice of late '90s guitar pop whose endearing qualities ensure it's barely aged a day.

Electro-Shock Blues (1998)
In the immediate aftermath of Beautiful Freak, E's life quite simply fell apart. Having witnessed the death of his father as a teenager, the 36-year old now had to contend with those of his mother and sister, via cancer and suicide, respectively - developments which left him the only living member of his family. Understandably downtrodden, he used songwriting as a form of solace, with Eels' sophomore album, Electro-Shock Blues being the ultimate result. Sombre, withdrawn and strung with melancholy, many saw it as a form of career suicide, but whilst not matching the chart performance of its predecessor, this stone-cold classic remains the most brilliant, affecting and flat out inspiring in the group's entire catalogue.

Blinking Lights And Other Revelations (2005)
By some way the most ambitious work of his career, Blinking Lights... was a redemptive moment whereby E's life finally seemed to be getting back on track. Ok, the three preceding Eels records had all dealt in a degree of cautious optimism but tracks such as "Hey Man! (Now You're Really Living)" and "Losing Streak" seemed a genuine turning point, even if the material with which they were surrounded didn't always match their overtly upbeat stance. Poignant, cohesive and consistently marvellous, this could almost be used as an example as to how double albums should be executed.


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