Eels – Wonderful, Glorious

There are no surprises on the new Eels album, but for JODY MACGREGOR Wonderful, Glorious is as welcome as an old friend.

Wonderful, Glorious is the tenth Eels album. The weight of those nine albums lined up behind this one make it difficult to listen to without trainspotting which parts sound like something they did earlier. And when I say ‘they’ I mean ‘he’ because Eels the band is often just E the musician and some people who happen to be playing instruments near him, and sometimes his dog.

‘True Original’ sounds a lot like ‘If You See Natalie’ from Blinking Lights and Other Revelations if you replaced the piano with guitar. ‘Open My Present’ could be one of the horny werewolf rock songs from Hombre Lobo. ‘On the Ropes’ uses boxing as a metaphor for never giving up, like ‘Prizefighter’ or ‘Bus Stop Boxer’ before it. ‘Peach Blossom’ compares a girl to flowers; a lyrical motif heard in songs like ‘Lilac of the Breeze’ from Hombre Lobo and ‘Daisies of the Galaxy’ from the album of the same name, and there’s also a keyboard line sneaking in at the end of the song that also sounds a lot like the kind of thing he was into during Daisies of the Galaxy. The final song, ‘Wonderful, Glorious’, is typical of those album-closing uplifting numbers where he reflects on the fact that life’s not so bad after all just like ‘P.S. You Rock My World’ or ‘Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues’ or ‘Things the Grandchildren Should Know’.

The Eels have been reinvented as many times as they’re likely to by this point and what remains is to juggle the sounds in their collection and put them side by side rather than explore each one at length. What I’m saying is, Wonderful, Glorious is basically their Hail to the Thief.

Over the course of their albums, E has written songs so intensely personal they make reading his autobiography seem redundant. If you’ve heard Electro-Shock Blues you know his sister committed suicide and his mother died of cancer one after the other, and if you’ve listened to Daisies of the Galaxy you know how he dealt with that and moved on. If you’ve listened to the entire Blinking Lights and Other Revelations double album you know about everything from details of his birth to his relationship with his distant father, a brilliant physicist who invented the concept of alternate universes. There’s not much in the way of backstory left to reveal. Each new Eels album is just a way to check in on where E is at currently – is he still kind of mopey but fundamentally content in spite of that? Yep.

There are no surprises here and it’s not the Eels album you’d recommend for beginners, but there’s nothing bad either. ‘You’re My Friend’ in particular is a great song, with plinky-plonky guitar, crunchy electronic bleepy-blonky bits and surprise sleigh bells. It’s about appreciating the value of friendship because you’ve been through the kind of trying times where a good friend is what you need to help you hold it all together, and at their best Eels albums can be those friends.

For me, Daisies of the Galaxy and its hopeful message – that after experiencing tragedy you’ll eventually remember there’s good in the world – is inseparable from my father’s death. I listened to that album constantly at the time; when people say that music is just entertainment and doesn’t really matter it’s the first thing I think of to prove them full of shit. Music does matter, and so do songs like ‘You’re My Friend’. The Eels may have slid into a late-career period of making solid but inconsequential albums, but like an old friend they’ll always be around and don’t need to prove themselves any more. Some day I might need them again, but even though that time isn’t now I’m going to nod along to ‘You’re My Friend’ and tap my foot to ‘Peach Blossom’ all the same.