Eels_-_Wonderful,_GloriousEels – Wonderful, Glorious
(Vagrant)
Words: Lenny DeFranco

Upon preparing to record the big one-oh in his discography, Eels frontman Mark Oliver Everett found himself surrounded by a band for the first time. Over the last twenty years, E has been less a frontman than a nucleus of the ever-changing cast of featured players assembled to bring his music to life. After a career made out of editing lineups like a reel of celluloid, E was happy to turn his group’s newfound stability into a new way of making music. “This is the first time that a whole band had a hand in actually writing the album,” he told Billboard. “The buck still stops here—I’m still the guy who says yes or no at the end of the day—but it was so much more fun making it this way.”

There may have been more cooks in the kitchen, but a man as restless with his dramatis personae as E doesn’t settle on steady collaborators unless he knows they are experts at playing his music. The result is a beefy, thoroughly Eels sound that links Wonderful, Glorious with 1996’s Beautiful Freak and his early-thousands releases. The same men who toured the guitar-raid siren of 2010’s Tomorrow Morning focus their attack here into E’s trademark tongue-in-cheek punk and mini-suites. These songs build evenly, and momentum swells carry the record through numerous changes in tempo and attack.

Wonderful, Glorious is the rare latter-day release that delivers from an artist exactly what you want to hear because you know they can do it well. Nothing here feels retreaded, but E plays up his strengths. Chief among those is what we shall call the Eels Beauty Progression. A few spots on the record have the gorgeous, unabashedly consonant and dramatic chord progressions that we’ve often heard him accompany with a celeste, string section, or chiming guitar arpeggios—sometimes all three. To me, this is why you have music. “Peach Blossom” starts off as a tight rock song, but by its end, its ringing chord progression is a flag: towering, rooted, and floating on the wind. It’s an atavistic style of songwriting that we don’t hear often enough. The title track also unfurls this type of mammoth chord progression, but “The Turnaround,” the album’s centerpiece, translates a downward spiral into a harrowing chromatic ascent. The album’s stylings aren’t expansive in diversity, but the guys know what works. Straight-ahead rock numbers like “Open My Present” and “Stick Together” are the pilings that this sturdy house is built atop.

Right from the “Big Electric Cat” thump of “Bombs Away” that opens the record, E establishes himself as a confrontational host, a man putting up a fight after looking inward and feeling tentatively emboldened. He’s not the train wreck of Electro-Shock Blues; when his insecurities are roiled, his endearingly liminal lyrics are up to face them. “Watching the death of my hopes / in the ring so long, gonna prove them wrong / I’m not knocked out, but I’m on the ropes.” He takes on bullies by rallying his fellow underdogs in “Stick Together,” a theme that dots the album.

E has hopefully found a stable group in The Chet, P-Boo, Knuckles, and the rest of his crew. This sound that they’ve made is authentic Eels for the time capsule. They’ve freed their leader to let the songs flow more, but transferred that power to the conviction with which they deliver this very potent rock n’ roll. The album would be a triumph if it were a debut, but for the 49 year-old Everett, it’s just nice to see that he can still make a really good Eels record.


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