Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Eels - El Hombre Lobo/End Times/Tomorrow Morning

Eels - Tomorrow MorningEels - El Hombre Lobo

Eels - End Times

Eels' 2005 double album Blinking Lights and Other Revelations was an improvement over Shootenanny (what wouldn't be?), but was also further evidence that Mark Everett's best songwriting is behind him. There's a good single album in there somewhere, but even it doesn't compare to Souljacker or Daises of the Galaxy, let alone the amazing Electro-shock Blues.

The reason I've decided to tackle these three albums all at once is that I've completely ignored Eels from then until now. The main reason for that is simply because I lacked faith that El Hombre Lobo and End Times would actually be any good, and the critical consensus backed me up. There's slightly more to it, though. A dead friend of mine was huge Eels fan. The first three albums were undoubtedly among his favourite albums, and he even find redeeming features in Shootenanny. He owned the live album Oh What a Beautiful Morning and saw them live in Perth, where he lived the last five years of his life. He was truly an acquired taste as a friend; prone to extreme exaggeration and unpredictable in mood, swearing profusely when someone screwed up his McDonald's order, yet stoically enduring the leukemia that took his life three and a half years ago. Blinking Lights was the last Eels album he ever heard, and it continued his tendency to identify with Everett as a kind of cosmic punching bag. Sure, we had other musical taste in common, and his death would not have stopped me from following any artist still producing high quality work, but in the case of a band experiencing diminishing returns, it just solidified my disinclination to keep following their work.

Self-plagiarism is nothing new to Eels, but El Hombre Lobo is different in that it equally borrows from 60s and 70s classic rock. "Prize Fighter" is interesting for just how well it recreates the guitar tone of mid 60s Rolling Stones, if little else. Elsewhere you can hear echoes (or just plain rip-offs) of The Kinks and The Stooges among others. The quieter numbers tend to recycle chord progressions as far back as Beautiful Freak. "Fresh Blood" is the undeniable highlight and the only really original song on the album. It takes the album's garage aesthetic and instead of being consciously bluesy or otherwise retro, slowly builds a dark mood over an ominous beat that wouldn't be out of place sonically on the perennial touchstone for Eels' darker side, Tom Waits' Bone Machine. Besides that, El Hombre Lobo sounds as hastily assembled as it was.

End Times is an improvement on El Hombre Lobo, but I had higher hopes for it. My favourite Eels songs overwhelmingly tend to be the ones inspired by Everett's personal turmoil. I guess I'm profiting from another man's misery, but Electro-shock Blues is my favourite Eels album, and that one was recorded after the death of Everett's entire immediate family. I don't know what circumstances, if any, prompted the darker tone and sparser arrangements, but it's not as productively miserable as I'd hoped.

Tomorrow Morning surprisingly bucks the trend I mentioned above and is the best of these three albums. The title implies a clean break from the past, and appropriately it's musically and lyrically the exact opposite of End Times. It takes a couple of tracks to get going, but coheres into the most consistent Eels release in a long time. It's no masterpiece and it's unlikely that there will ever be another one under the Eels name, but it's hardly a blight on that name either.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Extempore #5: Paul Hester

Not long after Mark Linkous' suicide this year was the 5th anniversary of the suicide of Crowded House drummer Paul Hester. Every time I see the odd bit of footage, I can't help but think how obvious it was that he was in trouble. He just seemed too happy, as suicide victims often do. Hindsight is 20/20 and I'm not saying anyone in particular failed him, but it's just a shame.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Tame Impala - Innerspeaker

Just when you think Australian music's fixation with everything "retro" couldn't produce anything worse than Jet, you were right, at least for now: Tame Impala takes not sucking to extremes I haven't heard from an Aussie band since Dappled Cities. If you like the sound of Hendrix-style fuzz, delay and the EHX Small Stone with the colour switch up, you're gonna love this shit. Think of John Lennon joining the Jimi Hendrix Experience, taking the lead vocals and sharing the songwriting, and that'll give you some idea of what to expect. That sounds like the greatest thing ever, right? Well yeah, but more importantly, Tame Impala is a band, not a jukebox; they use their chosen aesthetic as a platform from which to launch their original ideas rather than compensate for a lack thereof. And just when you think that aesthetic isn't going to sustain itself long enough, they come up with an interesting innovation such as the brass-sounding guitar in "Alter Ego" which brings to mind Curtis Mayfield's Superfly soundtrack soaked in a particular narcotic that would be a cliche to mention. Basically, holy shit.

Sex, War & Robots