May 31, 2005

Eels "Blinking Lights & Other Revelations"

Mark Everett is no stranger to emotionally-driven music. With his band Eels, he's released some harrowingly deep records, such as Electro-Shock Blues, which was inspired by his sister's suicide. Though his last two albums, Souljacker and Shootenany! found Everett drifting away from such heavy-handed personal subjects, his new album, the two-disc, thirty-three song opus Blinking Lights and Other Revelations finds him unloading his soul without restraint. If you met the news of the size of Eels' latest album with a roll of the eyes and a concern that the Man Called E had finally allowed himself the ability to indulge his more depressing side, you're not alone. Blinking Lights and Other Revelations is the result of eight years of work, combining the subjects of the passing of his mother, the suicide of his sister, the death of a cousin on September 11th and his family dysfunctions.

Blinking Lights and Other Revelations is a heavy, disjointed double album that's not very cohesive. Unbelievably, though, it works; it works because every little moment, every little song, every little nuance works towards a greater good--there simply isn't a wasted moment. Thematically, Blinking Lights and Other Revelations doesn't stray too far from previous Eels records. Unlike Daisies of the Galaxy or Beautiful Freak, Everett has focused his attention on his thoughts on relationships within his family, tempering these thoughts with a wisdom that only comes with age. On previous albums, Everett offered lighthearted and cleverly melodramatic pop songs as a balm for his heavier fare, but he's quelled that tendency on Blinking Lights, and it's somewhat of a relief, because on later albums that cleverness seemed quite contrived. While Everett’s yet to lose his funny bone, the humor found here is much more subtle, often piggy-backed with some extremely heavy lyrics. (Then again, it’s hard to laugh after hearing a song like “Son of a Bitch,” which discusses his parents’ emotional weaknesses and failures.)

Musically speaking, Blinking Lights contains some of E's finest songwriting to date. With an unlimited palate--no doubt a result of being dropped--he is able to experiment with different musical ideas and genres. There’s plenty to fall in love with: he pedal-steel laced “Railroad Man” the touching psychedelic, “Flying”-inspired “From Which I Came/A Magic World,” the jaunty new-wave pop of “Hey Man (Now You’re Really Living),” the catchy pop of “Going Fetal” and the orchestral balladry of “The Stars Shine in the Sky Tonight.” Blinking Lights finds Everett breaking away from the tried-and-true Eels formula, experimenting with the sounds that comes to mind—and succeeding in a way his previous records never did. What makes this newfound experimentation even more fascinating is discovering that Everett really isn’t doing anything different with his songwriting; every song could have easily been found on any of his previous records. It’s a contradiction, of course, but contradiction has always been Eels’ specialty.

The initial assumption that Blinking Lights suffers for a lack of restraint is quickly replaced with the realization that, after ten years, Everett's finally able to make the statement he’s wanted to make. It is often suggested that many double albums could have been much stronger single albums, and in many cases such a suggestion is accurate. That's not the case here, though; every song found here is essential; there’s not a wasted moment that feels unnecessary, and even though initial listens might make it seems imperfect and disjointed, in fact Blinking Lights and Other Revelations is ultimately a seamlessly perfect album. It’s easily E’s magnum opus, and it’s no stretch to say that it’s one of this year’s best albums.

--Joseph Kyle

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