Monday, June 1, 2009

EELS: Hombre Lobo

There are two sides to the EELS equation: one is the quirky, quiet, depressing Mr. E, while the other is the rockin', balls to the wall, ready to take it on the chin Mr. E. The latter is the side of the equation is the piece that has always gotten more attention, and many of E's most lauded work is that which falls into the "sad sack" category. What's more, for the past few years (or more) E has indulged his more mopey side almost exclusively. Between Blinking Lights, EELS With Strings, and E's curmudgeony on stage persona, he's clearly been indulging his inner mope.

Which is not to say that's a bad thing: there's certainly merits to E's more serious compositions, and they have certainly helped to define him as a songwriter. Still, we're surprised that it's the side that gets the most attention. The fact of the matter is that E on a good day has far more depth than E on a gloomy day ever would. Sure, on their surface the more rocking compositions come across at first like less "artistic" fare. But the fact of the matter is that the rocking compositions still contain the emotion and insight of the ballads, they just deliver it with a dose of sarcasm, wit, and acceptance. It's that ability to confront demons that we love so much about E's rock persona, and it's why we couldn't be more happy that it's back with Hombre Lobo.

Before his current journey into mope-land, E spent quite a few years in his rock and roll boots. Souljacker and Shootenany were a pair of records designed to rock, and they did so with perfection. While Souljacker has held up better over the years, both records serve to illustrate just how well E's rock and roll songwriting can deliver. What constitutes E's rock sound is difficult to sum up, but we'd point out a few notable elements. Fuzzed out guitars, upbeat ballads, and drums that are full of punch and character: all of these serve to bring the songs up a notch, and allow them to transcend simply being about loss. Somehow, they manage to become catchy songs about loss. If the return of E's "rock beard" wasn't enough of an indicator, then we're happy to confirm: Hombre Lobo could easily stand as the third piece in this rock and roll trilogy.

From the first notes of "Prizefighter", it's clear that E is on a rock kick, and the momentum continues with "Lilac Breeze", "Tremendous Dynamite", "Fresh Blood" and "What's a Fella Got To Do". All of those tunes are rife with enough unapologetic fuzz and blues influence to make you smile by themselves. Nonetheless, interspersed between the rockers are some truly solid Mr. E ballads. Most reminiscent of the ballads on Daisies Of The Galaxy, these tunes are upbeat, with singable melodies and lilting beats. In short, it's a long way from the morbidity of Blinking Lights.

It's worth mentioning in the context of this change in direction that this is also probably the album in the EELS catalog that most recognizes E's classic rock and roll roots. Sure, he's covered "Fingertips" and "Loser" in concert, but on this record you can really hear that sixties influence in earnest, and it works. "Beginner's Luck" could be straight out of 60's Mowtown, and the record's melodies scream with classic sixties charm. The idea that a song can be catchy and tragic is really very much a hallmark of the sixties, and it's nice to see EELS unafraid to break away from the earnestness of emo.

At the end of the day, we don't really share the common endorsement of E's mopier fare; We couldn't be happier to see him back on what (to our ears) really feels like the "right" track. Sure, it's catchy, and to some that points painfully in the "sell out" direction. But the reality is that E's ability to dig into his emotions and reimagine them with a sweeter wrapper is a huge part of his charm and talent. What's more, his snarky sarcasm just wins us over every time. We couldn't be happier to have the "rock E" back - now we just need to catch the tour!

mp3: EELS - Fresh Blood
Stream: EELS - Hombre Lobo