Highlights: Bombs Away, On The Robes, The Turnaround, True Original
Frustrating though it may be, you do get tired of Eels. Not sick – just tired. Slightly bored. In fact, only the most loyal Mark Everett fan would feel genuinely excited about a new Eels album. The song remains the same, the changes are nonexistent, but it’s not only that: the absolute worst thing is that you can actually predict the quality of the whole thing. So when I finally sat down to listen to Wonderful, Glorious, I knew exactly what I would get: a worthy, well-written, rough-beautiful album I would give a seven to.
Secretly hoping for an unlikely revelation, that was what I got. If I were to compare Wonderful, Glorious to a past Eels release, I’d compare it to 2001’s Souljacker. The lovely-gruff ratio may have been different, but the contrast it produced was basically the same. Each album is hardly a classic even by Eels’ non-classic standard, but each album includes one song that is among Everett’s best ever. “True Original” has no magnetic power of “Woman Driving, Man Sleeping”, but it is nonetheless a heartbreaking ballad Mark can do so effortlessly well.
In fact, it’s these ballads that keep Wonderful, Glorious from being a letdown. Stuff like “On The Robes” and “The Turnaround”: gorgeous, melodic tunes with powerful vocal hooks. But then you’d also have to sit through decent, by-the-numbers Eels rockers, like, say, “Kinda Fuzzy”. Or, worse, “Peach Blossom”, which is where ‘rough’ turns into ‘ugly’. So it’s not accidental that the best thing about the latter track is that brief, pretty guitar break you get at around 1:15.
Any Eels fan would find much comfort in Wonderful, Glorious, while the rest of the world would probably feel what I felt: this is a very good album written by a songwriter who still has ‘it’, but whose ‘it’ terribly lacks a spark. I enjoyed it, but I really don’t want another album like this. Having said that, one never knows.