If the Beatles played distorted blues and added all their magical touches. That’s a bit what it’s like listening to the Eels. Mark Oliver Everett’s gravely voice and his sardonic lyrics that always have a silver lining have been gracing the radio airwaves and record store shelves since 1991. This is their fourteenth proper album, produced by Everett and John Parish (PJ Harvey), and it doesn’t necessarily cover too much new ground. But if you like the Eels, if you wanna be soothed, if you, like E, feel like the butt of some cosmic joke, but you need a soundtrack to fight back, this record might be for you.
It starts a bit tongue in cheek, in Everett’s self-deprecating way, with Amateur Hour, a song about how “you gotta go pro someday.” It’s a song about how the Eels might feel more than two decades in, like perhaps they’re still at the beginning of their game. The music industry is an uphill climb, after all, needing to tour and promote each new record, as if it were your first. But it’s also a compassionate and encouraging song, for all those people who have picked up the guitar because of the Eels, and need that little acknowledgement and push in the right direction. Or maybe it’s a comment on how people view musicians like the Eels, like it’s not a reputable choice of what to do with your life. It works on many levels, and provides an introductory jolt to a pretty self-conscious record.
To go along with that, Everett sings on the super bluesy second track, “Everyone’s a critic / ‘I can’t stand eels’ / So says Colin Firth / Rain on my parade / Then the clouds fade / It’s a good night on earth.” There are a number of tracks on the album that deal with being less than admirable to other people. Like the lead single, “The Magic,” on which Everett sings, “I get it, don’t sweat it / I’m not your cup of tea / Believe it or not / Not everyone loves me.” It’s a good dose of reality, especially coming from a minor celebrity, in this world where Jimmy Fallon says to every celebrity every night, “We all love you SO much!” and celebrities can seem to do no wrong.
It is the blues implicit in the Eels’ work that works so well, in their discography, and in track after track on this record. But it’s also the way they bend the blues, introduce pretty and strange sounds, a la Beck or the Flaming Lips. As someone who can only stand so much blues’ music, they are the perfect amount of indie-alternative music for me to really enjoy the trip.
There are also some sweet love songs on the album, like the keyboard, drum and lead guitar focused, slow jam, “So Anyway.” “Sweetest heart / where do I start / To let you know how glad I am you’re here.” And the finishing song, is a blues’ love song about how it’s actually strong to admit that you’re wrong sometimes in a relationship. The last song, their closer, has their signature Eels’ feel to it, and sounds like something you may have heard from them before, ending on a familiar note.
“I’m a goddamn fool,” Everett ends the record. And what this record accomplishes the best, except for it’s stellar composition and musicianship, is to make the loner, the loser, the fuck up (or at least those of us who feel that way about ourselves sometimes), to feel understood and look forward to getting out of the slump. They soundtrack our less savory moments in life, with hope and humor and understanding. Sometimes even insisting that we turn things around ourselves, like on the peaceful/raucous track “What It Isn’t” which talks about not accepting the nauseous phrase, “It is what it is,” but (screaming to ourselves) “Make it what it isn’t! / Shut up!”
Overall it contains the humor, the pathos, the licks and the grooves that you’d expect from an Eels’ record. There is certainly a “magic” to Everett and his pals, something that might seem like “witchcraft” to some, but which is just damn good songwriting, plain and simple. Hopefully they find a good reception to their new songs, but of course some people will not like it, and the Eels’ are okay with that. There’s enough peace to assuage the turmoil in this life, and the Eels’ songs are something to comfort and please.
Pre-order Extreme Witchcraft by Eels HERE
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