The Eels release their new material this week, but is it worth buying?
3/5 My Maudlin Career Camera Obscura cites 74 musical influences on its MySpace page, including Sheena Easton and MC5, but there’s no mention of The Beach Boys. Which is odd, since ‘I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times’ could be their anthem. But where Brian Wilson always looked forward Camera Obscura seems ever content mingling with their predecessors.
The charmingly pessimistic and self-effacing love poems of previous albums are still here. Frontwoman Tracyanne Campbell continues to bemoan hapless romances – but now with a more satisfying blend of sincerity (‘James, you broke me/I thought I knew you well’) and whimsy (‘You kissed me on the forehead/Now these kisses give me a concussion’). Meanwhile, the Phil Spector-esque army of chamber instrumentalists certainly enlarges the band’s sound, even if it can’t quite heat up the record’s leftover ingredients.
‘James’ is the album’s sentimental centerpiece, swollen with woe-is-me bluntness, and by the time more introspective ballads ‘Forests And Sands’ and ‘Other Towns And Cities’ roll around, Tracyanne could use a bear hug.
To her credit, you’ll want to give her one. If at a glance these Glaswegians are loyal purveyors of edgeless, emotional art-pop, their charismatic frontlady’s vocals, like those of fellow Scot Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins, soar above baroque banality. Campbell’s ethereal pipes have roundly matured since their debut on Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi in 2001, and she is now legitimately the diffident diva she’s always wanted to be. The rest is forgiven. Bryant Manning Available at www.7digital.com.
3/5 Hombre Lobo Mark Oliver Everett has always shrouded himself in mystery and oddity – calling himself E, sporting a Karl Marx–length beard, etc – while conversely maintaining an accessibility that’s been widely exposed through film and television, notably by soundtrack appearances in all three Shrek films. Still, this conflict has contributed to a struggle when it comes to crafting balanced records. His last proper one, the bloated, 33-song affair Blinking Lights And Other Revelations, lit up a few times but was otherwise no revelation.
Perhaps hoping to remedy the situation, E has settled upon a theme reflected in the subtitle of his new Hombre Lobo: ‘12 Songs Of Desire.’ Longing for love, affection and sex may not be as original a concept for an album as, say, a deaf, dumb and blind pinball champion – and really, aren’t love and sex what most rock and pop songs are about? – but the restriction allows for some creative exploration. E presents men as wistful gentlemen and juvenile animals, respectively, in ‘That Look You Gave That Guy’ and ‘Fresh Blood’. In doing so, he deftly deconstructs a thinking man’s fight with his inner beast (‘hombre lobo’ is the Spanish term for ‘werewolf’). Unfortunately, many of the ten remaining tracks retread the themes ad nauseam, or worse, too closely recall previous Eels tunes. Colin St. John Available at www.7digital.com.