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Eels:: Blinking Lights and Other Revelations (Album Review)

Eels’ sixth studio album alternates between fleeting optimism and regret, a bi-polar libretto of potential (“From Which I Came/A Magic World”) and hope (the blinking lights of the title are Morse code messages of support from airplane wings and passing cars) and Dave Pelzer-esque confessionals (“Daddy was a drunk/A most unpleasant man…the wrong look his way/ could really wreck his day/and believe me when I say/It would wreck your day too”, “Son of a Bitch”). Eels’ Mark ‘E’ Everett has more cause than most to be depressed – as has been extensively reported, aged 19 he found his father dead, his sister Elizabeth committed suicide in 1996 and his mother died of lung cancer two years later – but songs like the none-more-maudlin “Suicide Life” (chorus: “I’m so tired of living the suicide life/That ain’t no reason to live”) are simply impossible for outsiders to enjoy, despite the sweet if self-plagiarising piano ballad backing. (Timeworn family photos dot the sleeve – it’s his mother, Nancy, on the colorized cover – adding to the sense of privacy invaded.)
Indeed, E, like Beck and Rufus Wainwright, has such a well-defined vocal style – tone, delivery and rhythm – that every new song is instantly familiar. The downside of this is, of course, that every new song is instantly familiar. Assuming 2000’s “Daisies of the Galaxy” to be the high watermark of E/Eels’ output in terms of variety, insight and exuberance and follow-up “Souljacker” to be his best realised conceptual achievement, the subsequent “Shootenanny!” and now “Blinking Lights and Other Revelations” have been exercises in just how much music can be squeezed into one release as opposed to opportunities for experiments or innovation. Frustrated no doubt by his former US label Dreamworks’ inability to market him, delaying the release of “Souljacker” et al in America until months after they were available everywhere else, E has now spewed musically forth a staggeringly unnecessary 33 tracks on this new double album that follow on from one another like a repetitive epic poem of loss, regret and little resolution. An old Steve Coogan-as-Paul Calf routine featured a joke about how repeated round-the-clock news had such a numbing affect that within hours of hearing of an international tragedy sorrow would inevitably turn to ambivalence and eventually boredom. Over the course of two CDs – the occasional up-tempo arrangement (most notably disc two’s “Hey Man (Now You’re Really Living)”, “Sweet Li’l Thing” and “Losing Streak”) notwithstanding – sympathy for E’s horrible family history and crippling emotional baggage gives way to similar compassion fatigue. He’s not alone in working out his issues on record – Madonna has included several songs about her mother’s early death from cancer on most of her albums from 1989’s “Like A Prayer” to 2003’s “American Life”, but they’re usually one song amongst many, a downbeat moment in a sea of superlative pop rather than the norm. “Blinking Lights…” is a 93 minute-long nervous breakdown that offers few concessions to the needs of the listener to be entertained. If “A Child Called It” and its ilk are your bedtime reading, then you’ve found the ideal soundtrack. Otherwise, you might want to hold out for something – anything – a little more life-affirming. (by Emma Morgan -UK)