Mark Oliver Everett (aka E) says a lot about the Eels career when he croons on “Prizefighter”, a fuzzy, Blues-y, guitar-based screamer and opening track of the Eels 7th album Hombre Lobo, “I’m a go-all-nighter….I’m a don’t-do-it-wrong-do-it-righter, I’m a prizefighter”
Over the years, Eels have proven to be prizefighters in the indie-rock world by doing it right on their seven studio albums, various collections, soundtracks, and live recordings over a 13-year period. E’s unique voice and his acumen for crafting quirkily moody pop songs has enabled him to hone the Eels eclectic sound into a unique hybrid style that is less a composite of multiple genres and more of an unclassifiable, singular genre unto itself.
Previous albums have seen a varied musical landscape of powerful, atmospheric and intimate songs that dictate comparisons to the bluesy post-punk of Nick Cave, the raw, emotional energy of PJ Harvey and even the iconoclastic ruminations of Bright Eyes with a little of the biting wit and wry humor of Cake thrown in for good measure, but always done up with a fresh twist and from a personal perspective.
On this concept album, the sub-title of which is 12 Songs of Desire, Eels seem to have stripped away the intangible and sometimes rich tonalities that often surround their emotive alt-rock to reveal a sound that teeters between raw emotion and raw energy, while still retaining the haunting originality and indie-rock punch that is unmistakenly Eels.
This musical exploration of desire comes in the form of both inward reflection and outward expression of the animal instincts that lie within the core of us all. On the surface, the slower, smoother and simpler tracks like “That Look You Give That Guy”, “In My Dreams”, “The Longing” and closer “Ordinary Man”, seem to be boring, bare-bones acoustic numbers, but endear themselves to the listener over time with their gently swirling atmospheric touches and gut-checking lyrics. Sparring with these introspective ditties are the louder, faster and more upbeat tracks like “Lilac Breeze”, “Tremendous Dynamite”, “Fresh Blood” and “What’s A Fella Gotta Do” that howl with fuzzed-out guitars, jittery keyboards, thumping bass and sharp drum lines that resonate like a right hook to the temple.
Eels haven’t pushed their creative envelope into unfamiliar or unexplored musical territory, however, so not every one of the 12 tracks on Hombre Lobo connects. Each track contains elements that sound similar in combinations of tone, texture and melody from previous records, so this album is not necessarily a knockout. However, the band’s artistic hybrid is delivered with a fervent honesty and steeped in an emotional intensity that may make it sound a lot like other Eels material, but not much like anything else, so Eels remain indie-rock heavyweight contenders on my scorecard.
Recommended Tracks: “Fresh Blood”, “Lilac Breeze”, “Tremendous Dynamite” and “Ordinary Man”
Recommended If You Like (RIYL): Nick Cave, PJ Harvey, Bright Eyes and Cake
Hombre Lobo streaming in its entirety on the Eels’ Myspace page: http://www.myspace.com/eels
Vagrant Records: Vagrant