Following the release of his bleakly personal double album Blinking Lights And Other Revelations in 2005, Mark Oliver Everett - better known simply as E - seemed to spend the rest of that decade spent. With good reason; the 33 track opus came in wake of the suicide of his sister, the death of his parents and his cousin's role as flight attendant on the fatal 9/11 plane. That's an awful lot to take in, and the pain absorbed by the stalwart songwriter was all too clear in Blinking Lights And Other Revelations' intense confessionals.
E has since written a trilogy of albums, each with their own diminishing returns; it felt like he'd said all he could say for a time after Blinking Lights. , but if 2009's Hombre Lobo, and 2010's End Times and Tomorrow Morning felt like the sound of an artist starting to run out of puff, then Wonderful, Glorious is a marked attempt to return to the late 90's and early part of the noughties, where albums like Beautiful Freak, Electro-Shock Blues and Souljacker overcame the depression of their contents with an anger too, a defiance that stopped him from sinking too deeply into his shoes, as he began to thereafter.
'Bombs Away' opens the album and is a spiky, confrontational number, the feel of a man shaking himself out of despondency and reigniting the fire within, "I will be heard, and your opinion will wait its turn" E orders, in that familiar husk of a voice, sounding like a man downtrodden for too long. 'Kinda Fuzzy' is another aggressive number, E snarling "don't mess with me I'm up for a fight", and yet as soon as he utters that things fall away, 'Accident Prone' an almost apologetically timid slumber that sees mojo lost and a retreat made. Thankfully it's just a brief respite, and much of Wonderful, Glorious is, if not strong enough to be labelled his 'finest in years', certainly representative of a man re-energised after three years away rediscovering his thirst for music and life.
There's nothing quite as warped or creepy as to be found on Everett's truly transcendental tracks, the spectrum seems to switch merely from melancholy to belligerence. He's always given the impression of an uphill struggle and there are times where you think he's finally given up the ghost - the winding Americana of 'On The Ropes' that sees him claim "I'm not knocked out but I'm on the ropes", for instance - but, unlike on his recent previous material, he manages to battle back this time - even if his mettle comes from negative connotations like learning not to trust anyone, as on the swirling tirade of 'The Turnaround'. Sometimes it feels more the case that E is simply pressing on rather than opening up, tired of looking for anything much more optimistic in life than survival.
Yet this teeth-grit, eyes ahead attitude is something we've come to expect from Eels, and Wonderful, Glorious is at its best when he's at his growliest, whether it be the heavy-of-foot sounding 'New Alphabet', the urgent, skittering blues-rock of 'Stick Together' or the squalling assault of 'Open My Present'. By the end you even sense a form of happiness has fallen upon this most maligned performer; 'You're My Friend' heralds a final trio of songs that feel apart from the rest of the album, a sense of some sort of conclusion having been reached. With E you just know that they probably haven't, but it's great to hear him sounding much more sure of finding one than he has in the recent past.
Simon Jay Catling