It's a well established fact that bands need to change and grow to have any hopes of longevity, but change can be a double edged sword. Eels - originally a trio and now the vehicle of “E”, a.k.a. Mark Oliver Everett - have been wonderfully, mystically, inevitably prolific and, in the early days at least, there was no way of knowing what the next record would sound like. By E's own admission this strategy caused a few problems in the early days; tours would be booked on the basis of a hard-rockin' gutsy album, and E would show up with a gentle set-list and a string quartet, then another tour would be booked in seemingly suitable concert-hall venues and E would turn up to those sporting bleached blonde hair and accompanied by a barrage of overdriven guitars.
Venue confusion aside, constant evolution was a gamble that paid off critically, and the early Eels albums are some of the best around; sophisticated, urbane, dark, witty, bleak, and hopeful in equal measure. It's not all been plain sailing lately, however, and the last few records (there really have been loads of Eels albums) have begun to show signs of creative fatigue. From Blinking lights... onward it has sounded like E's been rehashing the same old themes and material. Always entertaining, certainly, but not particularly interesting.
This new record, Wonderful, Glorious, is not a return to the unpredictable early days. What it is, however, is an archetypal Eels album. This is unmistakably Eels and no-one else, and it almost feels like you could have mathematically predicted the sound of this record purely by averaging out the last few albums. Importantly though, the caveat here is that while there's been no sea-change this is still Eels at their very, very, very best. The sounds may have become familiar of late, but you've never heard them put together quite like this before.
I've been waiting for an Eels album to get excited about since I was blown away by Souljacker in 2001, and this is undoubtedly it. Finally the stars have aligned and all the elements that Eels so obviously excel at – songwriting, sonic textures, attitude, arrangement - have come together at the same time. They were there in the background on all the recent records, of course, but never all a the same time. Wonderful, Glorious hits all the buttons, scores all the goals, wins all the votes. A strong early contender for album of the year.