Wonderful, Glorious, and Other Adjectives
Eels is a strange group—headed by rasping, sensitive frontman Mark “E” Everett, backed by a rotating crew with a slew of strange monikers (the Chet, P-Boo, Koool G Murder, and Knuckles, to name a few), and known best for its successful concept album trilogy released in 2009 and 2010, Homre Lobo, End Times, and Tomorrow Morning. And while Eels has a long track record of solid albums, Wonderful, Glorious just falls flat.
The album starts out with a strong, in-your-face declaration on the dark, angry “Bombs Away.” Tribal drums pound under a scratchy guitar that skitters above an ominously plodding bass. Everett’s low, grating vocals proclaim “I will be heard / and your opinion’s gonna wait its turn,” asserting that he’ll “shriek, holler, and shout / if you’re not ready you better get out.” But as emphatic as these lines are, Everett steps back: “nobody listens to a whispering fool,” he laments, “I’ve been quiet as a church-house mouse.” The song comes off as self-indulgent, a little whiny—and most of the album continues in this manner. “Kinda Fuzzy” attempts to play with a dynamic structure but feels incoherent and scatterbrained, and “Accident Prone” seems to drone on, never going anywhere. “You’re My Friend” has an attractively funky guitar line, but Everett’s unimaginative, overly simple lyrics ruins it: “you’re my friend / you’ve done a lot of nice things for me.”
The best moments on Wonderful, Glorious are those when Everett trusts to the music to create emotion: his anguish and pain are much more tolerable on “The Turnaround,” “I am Building a Shrine” and “True Original,” all slower, meditative tunes. Subtly haunting effects and a light guitar melody, repeating softly, do a lot more for establishing the mood than Everett’s griping, mundane vocals.
But even these tracks still drag along. Even better are the album’s most upbeat numbers, “Peach Blossoms” and “New Alphabet.” The former begins with big, abrasive percussion and heavy, buzzing guitars in a rocking, in-your-face riff. It’s a much more appropriate sound for the album’s overall tone, showing that Eels can be rough and rocking even as Everett sings about tiger lilies and peach blossoms and marigolds. “New Alphabet” features dark, slow, rhythmic guitar riffs and a hard-rocking chorus complemented, for once, by Everett’s characteristically gruff vocals. If Eels would stick with tunes like these, or even just put a little more effort into lyrical composition, maybe their next album will actually be wonderful and glorious.