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Eels - 'Hombre Lobo' Review

Eels Create a Fictional Narrator for Their Reliably Melodic New Album

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating

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eels hombre lobo

Eels - 'Hombre Lobo'

Photo courtesy Vagrant.
Eels albums tend to be built around a thematic or stylistic concept, and that holds true for their new record, Hombre Lobo, which tells the story of a misunderstood outsider who is the grownup version of “Dog Faced Boy” from the group’s 2001 album Souljacker. But while Hombre Lobo represents the first time Eels have written an entire record from a fictional character’s perspective, sonically and lyrically the album recalls many of the group’s previous works. In this way, Hombre Lobo feels both fresh and familiar, resulting in a record that doesn’t rank with Eels’ best albums but fits comfortably in the group’s canon.

Ready to Move Forward After Looking Back

Though it’s been four years since Eels released their last studio record, Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, E (the frontman and only permanent member of the band) has been busy of late with a greatest-hits compilation and an odds-and-sods collection. Most significantly, though, E also put out a memoir, Things the Grandchildren Should Know, which chronicled his life and his relationship to his brilliant-but-distant scientist father, loving mother and suicidal sister. The deaths of his family members informed several Eels records, especially Electro-Shock Blues, Daisies of the Galaxy, and Blinking Lights, but with the writing of his memoir, E seems to have closed that sad chapter of his life. By adopting a fictional narrator for Hombre Lobo who is obsessed with unrequited love, Eels would appear to be distancing themselves from the intensely confessional nature of their past work, allowing E to explore his usual themes of loneliness and self-doubt through a new prism.

Differences Between E and Hombre Lobo?

Despite the addition of this new prism, though, longtime Eels fans will notice many similarities between the so-called Hombre Lobo character and E. They’re both peculiar individuals who enjoy being a step removed from conventional society, although they still want to find their place in the wider world. The most noticeable difference is that Hombre Lobo lacks the sarcasm and pessimism that flavors E’s typical first-person songs – instead, Hombre’s quest to find a soul mate is genuine and openhearted, as if E decided to ignore his darker impulses while writing in this persona.

Songs That Draw From Past Eels Albums

Musically, Hombre Lobo recalls the styles of several previous Eels records. Consisting largely of three-piece pop-rock songs, Hombre Lobo is most closely linked to the straightforward tunes of 2003’s Shootenanny!, with tracks like “My Timing Is Off” and “That Look You Give That Guy” cut from the same stripped-down, plaintive cloth. But the lilting “All the Beautiful Things” feels more reminiscent of the delicate indie-pop of Blinking Lights, while “Tremendous Dynamite” digs into the same blown-amp blues-rock territory of Souljacker. After establishing himself over the last decade or so as one of America’s most distinctive singer-songwriters, it might be unfair to complain that Hombre Lobo sounds too much like his older work, but while many of the album’s songs are impeccably crafted, only a few of them break new ground. Consequently, Hombre Lobo is more of a satisfying addition to the Eels catalogue than a bold step forward.

On the Quest for "Fresh Blood"

While there are several heartbreaking and memorable tunes on Hombre Lobo, the album’s high-water mark is “Fresh Blood,” a nervy, feedback-laden rock song driven by a drum machine and a creepy keyboard drone. On the album, the loner character goes back and forth between celebrating his object of affection and lamenting her absence, but “Fresh Blood” adds a disturbing wrinkle by making Hombre Lobo a horny, vaguely demented prowler only out for sexual satisfaction. The song’s dank midnight-alley vibe is a bracing change of pace from Eels on an album that largely revisits past strengths rather than trying to establish new ones.

Eels' 'Hombre Lobo' – Bottom Line

Hombre Lobo will satisfy Eels fans because of its trademark pop-rock songs, empathetic vocals and overall wistful tone. However, E probably won’t win a lot of new converts with this record since it doesn’t radically alter his songwriting formula – he may be singing as Hombre Lobo, but he’s really baring his own soul, as always.

'Hombre Lobo' – Best Tracks:

“Fresh Blood” (Purchase/Download)
“That Look You Give That Guy” (Purchase/Download)
“In My Dreams” (Purchase/Download)
“My Timing Is Off” (Purchase/Download)
“All the Beautiful Things” (Purchase/Download)

Release date – June 2, 2009
Vagrant Records

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