Some would call it a bit premature to cement albums into their best-of-year lists in late April, but those people probably haven’t heard Blinking Lights and Other Revelations. I am absolutely, positively, indubitably in love with this double album from the Eels (a.k.a. E, a.k.a. Mark Oliver Everett). Each time I listen to this 33-song epic masterpiece, I grow further and further enamored of it, to the point where I cannot even use words to match the adoration I feel. Whether he meant it or not, E has created his SMiLE. While Brian Wilson was creating a teenage prayer to God, E has created an album about “God and all the questions related to the subject of God.” What he found along the way was an album about humanity, in all its ugliness, angst, joy and beauty.
I don’t quite know how he does it. Not only did his father die when he was 19, but his sister committed suicide, and his mother became terminally ill with lung cancer. It’s one thing to lose your entire family, pick yourself up off of the floor and then create the great music that became Electro-Shock Blues, but to then write three more great albums worth of material, topping it off with a new double album is just unbelievable. But then again, this is a guy who asked his parents to buy him a drum set when he was six years old and then played it every day for ten years. This is a guy who taught himself how to also play piano and guitar. E is not your average everyday musician. He is an amazing talent who, after 14 years, is finally starting to get the recognition he deserves.
Every song on Blinking Lights is a little sonic gem, varied and distinct from each other, and then there are those handfuls of songs that go beyond even that scope and become pop colossi. Take for instance the bass-bouncy “Trouble with Dreams,” the quiet “Suicide Life” and the Neil Young/Bruce Springsteen forceful yelps of “The Other Shoe,” and that’s just halfway through the first disc! Fellow gravelmouth (in fact, the king of the gravelmouths) Tom Waits even lends his talents to the track “Going Fetal” after nominating The Eels’ previous album Shootenanny! for the 2003 Short List Music Prize.
There is a running theme of `blinking lights’ throughout the album, but to me the centerpieces to understanding the whole project are the first single, “Hey Man (Now You’re Really Living)” and its predecessor on the album, “Old Shit / New Shit.” The latter explains that the world is fraught with problems and pain and the only thing you can count on is that things change.
Everyone loves you, nobody cares
An awful collection of enemies and friends,
Congratulations to you, with sad regrets
I’m tired of the old shit, let the new shit begin.
Then the former is a celebration of life and the things in it which are cause for celebration, bad or good:
Do you know what it’s like to care too much
About someone that you’re never gonna get to touch
Hey man, now you’re really living.
Have you ever made love to a beautiful girl
Made you feel like it’s not such a bad world
Hey man, now you’re really living.
With the “People, sing!“, the yelps and handclaps, the song is sure to be a rousing closer for live shows, inciting mass participation, and if I know E, ad libs galore. There are way too many songs to talk about in a review format. What I really mean is, too many good songs. On most albums it’s fairly easy to pick out a few good songs to talk about, but as I listened to the album I really struggled to whittle down the selection. At times E seems as the heir apparent to Randy Newman, at others like Beck’s godfather, or even as if Jon Brion’s help in the past rubbed off plenty, and still others like nothing I’ve ever heard before. I’ve been an Eels fan for as long as the moniker has been around, getting a little Novacaine for my soul over at Susan’s house back in 1996, but with Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, Mark Oliver Everett has cemented his place in rock history.
Brian Wilson – SMiLE
Randy Newman – Good Old Boys
Aimee Mann – Bachelor No.2