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Saturday 23 August 2014

Album of the Week: A glorious display of wonderful influences

Eels Wonderful, Glorious (E-works)

John Meagher

Published 01/02/2013 | 18:00

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Over the course of nine eclectic albums, Mark Everett – or E, as he likes to be known – has cemented his status as the doyen of alternative American singer-songwriters.

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He is a writer who eschews the sort of clichés to be found in the work of even accomplished contemporaries and his willingness to hop-scotch from one distant subject to the next makes his work both intriguing and frustrating.

There's a distinct self-deprecating strain to be discerned in many of his songs – as well as in his warts-and-all memoir, Things the Grandchildren Should Know.

It will come as absolutely no surprise, then, that the title of his 10th album should be taken with a large pinch of salt.

Sure, Everett is not adverse to looking at life's rosy side – the title track which closes the album is undeniably upbeat – but he remains as preoccupied as ever by its ability to throw up misfortune, misery and malevolence.

Despite his woes, he remains defiant. "Don't mess with me," he sings on one of the album's standouts, Kinda Fuzzy, "I'm up for the fight."

Like the bulk of his work to date, Everett's music is drawn from a myriad of sources.

There are tracks that appear indebted to Tom Waits (Bombs Away) and others that wouldn't seem out of place in the Beck songbook (On the Ropes).

The singer's trademark defeatist humour is evident throughout – and it's a feature that marks him out from the pack.

Musically, much of the album harks back to one of his standout albums, Souljacker, thanks to the treated drums and fuzzy guitar, and there are reminders of his debut, Beautiful Freak, too.

That album remains, for many, his best – and Wonderful, Glorious isn't consistently strong enough to be mentioned in the same breath.

Yet, while Everett is a singer who tends to divide opinion – his homespun music is not to everyone's taste – a handful of tracks show that he's a songwriter of rare ability.

The majestic True Original is worth seeking out for anyone unfamiliar with his oeuvre, while the bittersweet track You're My Friend will remain with you long after you first hear it.

KEY TRACKS True Original; You're My Friend

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