Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Hombre Lobo/End Times by Eels (2009/10)

Mark Everett has a remarkably rough life, and he chooses to deal with it through song writing. This produces the inevitable bleak, heartbreaking material that fills many of his albums, but he is also capable of pulling himself up by his bootstraps with more optimistic and at times downright funny songs. Considering the brief window between the release of these two albums, a direct comparison is inevitable, as is a pondering of their respective thematic qualities. Both coming after a generous 4 year break following 2005’s magnum opus autobiographical double concept album Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, the fact that they are separate releases gives them more of a focussed, brief feel than their predecessor. If both had been released as a single double album, that concentrated, back-to-basics feeling would have obviously been lost.

Hombre Lobo, subtitled 12 Songs of Desire, presents a solid set of songs, alternating between sweet ballads and ragged, bluesy up-tempo rantings smothered in feedback. Both styles of song represent lust and desire, the howling on some songs illustrating the primitive, animalistic nature of man’s passions. Standout tracks are That Look You Give That Guy (with its hilarious video), In My Dreams, Tremendous Dynamite and My Timing Is Off. Following this somewhat uncharacteristic Mediterranean album (in terms of character, not instrumentation) came End Times.

From its surprisingly literal and effective cover, it becomes clear that more subdued themes will be addressed.

Other reviews are keen to contrast the two albums, characterising the latter as raw, confessional and sparsely instrumented. However, plenty of the songs are interchangeable. Just as the more tender and “unplugged” songs like Ordinary Man from Hombre Lobo could easily fit on End Times, so do the rockier songs from that album, like Gone Man and Unhinged, sound like their lustful peers on Lobo. End Times deals with loving and losing, regrets and reflection. The funny and terrifying Paradise Blues is an account of a suicide bomber, while at the same time latching on to the theme of love lost. A Line In The Dirt, the first proper single following promos for In My Younger Days and Little Bird, contains a phrase that combines dry wit and regret in equal measures: “She locked herself/in the bathroom again/So I am pissing/in the yard/I have to laugh when/I think how far it’s gone/but things aren’t funny anymore”. Both albums are solid, never lagging, and always engaging musically and lyrically. Their relative brevity adds to their accessibility, especially when compared with the sprawling Blinking Lights and the more impenetrable Electro-shock Blues. Hombre Lobo and End Times perhaps owe most to 2001’s Souljacker, with its ragged rockers and sweet ballads. Indeed, as Everett points out in an interview the Dog-Faced Boy of that album is now the Hombre Lobo, the werewolf.

Yet ultimately, both albums hinge too much on their predecessors. Of course, each artist has a certain signature sound, instantly recognizable for fans and non-fans alike, but hearing the same sounds, tempos, instrumentation and themes in a fifteen year career can get a bit grating. For example, Lobo’s All The Beautiful Things literally sounds like a rehashed Blinking Lights, and everywhere the arrangements are instantly familiar. Far from wishing for a predictable and ill-fitting electro or R&B twist, some kind of reinvention is in order for the next album.