The tenth studio album by the mercurial Eels and his shifting entourage of collaborators sees him plough familiar, but satisfyingly fertile ground.
If you've read his autobiography Things The Grandchildren Should Know, you'll appreciate that Mark Oliver Everett a.k.a. 'E' has experienced more than his fair share of difficult times. Family tragedies piled up around the musician throughout his early career, experiences which he has reflected on unflinchingly ever since. When E talks to camera, as he constantly does, it is typically about overcoming demons, inside and out. It's not morose, to him it serves a purpose; perhaps it's just a more constructive form of therapy.
Wonderful, Glorious doesn't deviate one jot from established routines, with E griping and growling his way through a succession of little-man-fights-back montages. A new Eels album is a bit like bumping into someone you like but never quite got to know completely; you spend the whole time thinking 'I can't believe I almost forgot about him. I wish I saw more of that guy'.
As with a great deal of his recent output, it's a steady if not spectacular assortment. Opener 'Bombs Away' is effectively friend and collaborator Tom Waits' 'Jockey Full of Bourbon' shorn of American Gothic mystery, while 'Kinda Fuzzy' reverts back to Beautiful Freak-era drum machine and Casio combinations, and 'Peach Blossom' retreads familiar ground from Souljacker with a jiggly, distorted drum beat and stop-start narrative. The production is, as always, reassuringly clipped despite the backwoods feel to the voice that narrates the material. E's rasp has always had the homely tone of a half burnt log, his guitars yelp and baritone like the brass he has employed in other lives, and throughout all a sense of gritty wonderment pervades. He's obviously picked up a great deal from Waits, particularly in the percussion department.
Sure, the ingredients may be predictable, but even so long time fans will find plenty to excite here. E wears his references like a favourite old coat; once again he includes a boxing analogy ('On The Ropes') and once again the album finishes on an upbeat note ('Wonderful, Glorious'). There are the familiar quiet points, often oddly reminiscent of incidental music from Malcolm In The Middle. 'On The Ropes' sees E form a dream tour partnership (in my head at least) with Willie Nelson, launching full-blooded into modern country and western in a way he has never quite done before.
While not as strong a collection as Hombre Lobo, or any of the first three or four albums, Wonderful, Glorious boasts at least one nailed-on Greatest Hits contender ('True Original') and has very few actual low points. Readers of his autobiography will have recognised that unlike his contemporary Beck, it is normally very obvious where E's mind is at any one time. While Beck has usually preferred surrealist social comment to more personal source material, E wears his bloodied heart on his sleeve. "Don't mess with me / I'm up for the fight" from 'Kinda Fuzzy' is the most oft-repeated message here, and if you balance that thought with the bittersweetness of 'You're My Friend', you've almost got a readymade epithet for the man.