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Eels - 'Wonderful, Glorious' Review

E and His Touring Band Get Funky, Ominous, Beautiful

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating

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eels wonderful glorious

Eels - 'Wonderful, Glorious'

Photo courtesy Vagrant.
Flaunting a full-band sound that’s been missing from recent Eels albums, Wonderful, Glorious is a rollicking, slightly overlong collection that reconfirms frontman E’s musical dexterity. Working with the same musicians that have toured with him over the last few years, E splits the difference between indie-pop and garage-rock on this album, returning to his usual themes -- specifically, love’s restorative power -- for a set that’s often upbeat and engaging.

A Creative Collision

A few years ago, Eels delivered a trilogy of discs, each with its own concept. 2009’s Hombre Lobo crafted a narrative around a wolf man on the prowl for love. 2010’s End Times was stripped-down indie-rock that examined the end of a relationship, and the subsequent Tomorrow Morning incorporated electronic rock to offer an optimistic message about the things that make life worth living. Wonderful, Glorious doesn’t have an overriding concept except for the fact that E apparently collaborated more closely with his sidemen than usual, working in a new recording space that allowed the whole band to record together. That translates into a 13-song album that’s overstuffed with musical ideas, but the creative collision between guitars, drums and keyboards gives the record an urgency and vibrancy that wasn’t as noticeable in the past when E meticulously put together his albums instrument by instrument.

Belonging to No Musical Scene

When Eels started out in the mid-‘90s with hits like “Novocaine for the Soul,” they recalled other indie acts like Beck. But on Wonderful, Glorious, we can see how far removed E is from that scene -- or, frankly, any other. On a funky number like “Peach Blossom,” a strutting drumbeat stands shoulder to shoulder with a fat riff, only to be undercut by a lilting keyboard figure. Both aggressive and lovely at once, the song is the sort of precise pop confection that E does so very well. Few songs on Wonderful, Glorious are as straight-out perfect as “Peach Blossom,” but the shifting tones allow for different moods to present themselves, everything from the stark lover’s ode “I Am Building a Shrine” to the delicately hopeful “On the Ropes.”

Deceptively Straightforward

At its weakest, the album simply recycles musical motifs from previous Eels efforts. A thoroughly pretty, keyboard-driven ballad like “The Turnaround” is reminiscent of work off Blinking Lights and Other Revelations and Hombre Lobo, while some of the more up-tempo numbers pale in comparison to the highlights of Souljacker or Shootenanny! Nearly 20 years into his career as Eels, E has faced this problem before, offering variations on familiar styles and delivering a few delightful curve balls in the process. You could argue that this is why he gives himself a new concept with each album, forcing him to readjust his process and embrace new challenges. In theory, then, Wonderful, Glorious shouldn’t sound so fresh since it has less of a novel conceit. But as it turns out, this deceptively straightforward record actually offers many layered pleasures, the snarling “New Alphabet” bobbing and weaving with keyboard interludes or “I Am Building a Shrine” mixing between vaguely ominous undertones and a ethereal melody. Even when Wonderful, Glorious seems simple, it’s not.

Let E Be E

In the last decade or so, since Blinking Lights, Eels have become more and more of a cult band, beloved by a small, dedicated audience but failing to make much of an impact elsewhere. With Wonderful, Glorious, it’s understandable why: This is gloriously sculpted music that, nonetheless, isn’t particularly groundbreaking. And yet, there are so many treats to be found here that its few mediocre moments shouldn’t be overstated. Maybe this record isn’t exactly wonderful or glorious. But it is damn good.

'Wonderful, Glorious' - Best Tracks:

“Peach Blossom” (Purchase/Download)
“I Am Building a Shrine” (Purchase/Download)
“True Original” (Purchase/Download)
“Accident Prone” (Purchase/Download)
“New Alphabet” (Purchase/Download)

Release date – February 5, 2013
Vagrant

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