“I’ve been through a lot, and you can’t scare me.” No doubt.
Mark Oliver Everett – a.k.a. E, frontman and creative heart of Eels – has experienced more tragedy in his forty-something years than most endure over the course of an entire lifetime, and said events have had a massive influence on the man’s music to date. But the above line – one of the first on ‘Hombre Lobo’, appearing on opener ‘Prizefighter’ – is indicative of a new chapter in his career, where the past is precisely that and the future is full of opportunity as yet unwritten.
The contrast between this album and its immediate predecessor, 2005’s double-disc ‘Blinking Lights And Other Revelations’, could not be greater. Penned prior to both the release of his frank autobiography and his work on the documentary Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives – which examined the work of his late physicist father, Hugh – ‘Blinking Lights…’ featured its share of lavish arrangements, melodies soaked in sumptuous layers, each glimpse of darkness balanced by a beauty uncommon in pop most morose. But here E strips down the Eels sound to its raw components, revelling in a role where desire prances rampantly in the foreground of a mix that’s rough and ragged of production. And he’s never sounded more alive.
‘Hombre Lobo’ translates from Spanish as ‘Wolf Man’, and one can see this character, through which E channels his newfound lust, as a continuation of the ‘Dog Faced Boy’ introduced on 2001’s ‘Souljacker’ LP – now, grown up, our protagonist finds himself possessed by primal adult urges. “My sweet baby, I need fresh blood,” he menacingly intones midway through this album; either side of the somewhat macabre ‘Fresh Blood’ – where passion battles violence through persistently pounding percussion – E alternates between considered compassion (the love-struck strum of ‘That Look You Gave That Guy’) and fiery frankness (‘Lilac Breeze’ talks of a hungry dog wanting it bad… and there’s little confusion as to what ‘it’ is). Whatever the articulation, the common theme across songs is a simple one: love, and primarily the physical kind.
Stylistically, E touches upon some excellently ragged blues motifs – ‘Tremendous Dynamite’ is the kind of swaggering rocker that’d leave Jack White a sticky mess if it ever came to him in a dream – while offering the occasional nod to his past form – ‘The Longing’, compositionally, is as delightfully slight as the most tender moments of catalogue classic ‘Electro-Shock Blues’, albeit without such crushing emotional weight in its lyrics. That said, there’s still an astonishing sincerity to E’s delivery when he states: “When I say I would die for her, it’s not just words – I really would”. Few artists can skip from one approach to its polar opposite, from snake-hipped shake to introspective simmer, and not let slip that conveyance of honesty, of believability. But E manages it superbly.
“Believe it or not, you don’t have a choice in matters of the heart,” we’re informed on ‘My Timing Is Off’, one of this album’s prettiest numbers, and the same can be said of one’s appreciation of Eels, across their many guises. Come weather fair or foul, turbulence most dramatic or doldrums most still, E never fails to entrance with his tales of trials and tribulations overcome in the pursuit of his art – and if you’ve fallen the once, you’ve no choice but to fall again for the charms of this brilliant collection.
The man himself tells it like it is to the very end: “You seem like someone who could appreciate the fact that I’m no ordinary man”. No doubt, no doubt.
Eels are featured in issue 39 of Clash Magazine. Here’s a snippet of our full feature, available in all good newsagents and music stores from June 4.
Like many an ambitious artist before him, from Bowie’s colourful conduits through to of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes and his flamboyant Georgie Fruit guise, ‘E’ adopts something of a character during the course of his seventh studio album, a far rawer proposition than the lusciously arranged double-disc ‘Blinking Lights And Other Revelations’ collection of 2005. Fittingly for a record that’s scratchy, rough-edged and raucous, his chosen ‘vehicle’ is that of a werewolf. Well, the man has enough hair for the role.
“There’s a sort of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde thing on the record, where the werewolf character represents the more extreme version of desire, where things get ugly and sometimes quite terrifying; and then there’s the more tender side. But for me, the idea of desire, and the imagery of the werewolf, equalled the electric guitar. Some of the songs are pretty raw, like a garage band playing old bluesy stuff, and that’s exactly what I wanted for this character. There’s not a lot of keyboards, or little bell sounds that you’d find on the last record – there’s no orchestration or anything.”
Little was ditched from the ‘Hombre Lobo’ sessions, as the album came together over a three-to-four week period of intense writing and recording. Compared to previous experiences, this new release was a rush of gut-trusting faith before considered thought as to what’d make a good single, what would slip easily into a live set list, what could be decreed a ‘classic’ Eels song. With the heart ruling the head, ‘E’ and his conspirators for this release – just the pair of Koool G Murder (bass, keys, guitar) and Knuckles (drums, percussion) – simply played ‘til their own appetites were sated; thoughts of label sign-offs and critical reception far from their minds. But, of course, the end product is a more-than-recommended record, a collection that sees Eels open a new chapter of their story.
Read the full interview feature in issue 39 of Clash Magazine.