Anyone who has heard one Eels song should not be surprised that Mark Everett (known as E to his fans) gave his new album, Hombre Lobo, the subtitle 12 Songs of Desire. Pretty much every Eels song you can think of is a song of desire: desire for love, desire for good times, desire for E’s loved ones to not be dead (this is not a joke – dude found his dad dead in bed in 1982, his sister died in 1996, and his mom died of lung cancer in 1998. If there’s a dude who’s entitled to some musical grieving, it’s Mark Oliver Everett). In that respect, then, Hombre Lobo‘s subtitle isn’t setting a bar too high for E to reach.
The last few Eels records haven’t done much for me – I’m still living in the past with Daisies of the Galaxy, the stellar Eels release from way back in 2000. And I’ve gotta be honest with you: the thing that gave me a lot of hope for Hombre Lobo is the fact that Pitchfork rated it a 4.6. First off, you need to know that their numbering system is 1) pretentious, 2) lame, and 3) completely fucking arbitrary (you can put those in the order that suits you). But you also need to know that, on many occasions, an album that rates between about a 4 and a 7 on Pitchfork’s little scale has a good chance of being loved by me. Once you get above 7, there is an increasing chance that I will loathe whatever it is they love (although they are smart enough to routinely score Tom Waits above an 8. Even Pitchfork isn’t all stupid all the time). So, by at least one metric, I was ready and willing to love Hombre Lobo.
And I don’t not like Hombre Lobo, but I’m starting to realize something about every Eels album I’ve heard since Daisies (with the exception of the Live with Strings album, which is fucking gorgeous): I’m no longer listening to Eels primarily because I like their music. I’m listening to them now to see how Mark Everett is doing. I want him to be okay and I check in with him every so often to ensure that he is. He seems to be doing all right on Hombre Lobo, although he’s still better than a lot of people at doing the heart-on-sleeve-loneliness thing (especially since he does it without sounding unbearably emo). And Hombre starts with some real life to it, opening with one of its best tunes, “Prizefighter.” Three of the first four tracks are, in fact, actually good. And the rest are, well, only mediocre, but that’s not the point. I’m not here to listen to quality songs. I’m on the Mark Everett Suicide Watch and I’m happy to report that, for a guy who had 12 whole songs of desire in him, the guy seems to be coping pretty well with life. Good on you, Mr. Everett. You are still on the list of people I would totally buy a beer.
Eels diehards will possible take issue with my characterization of Everett as a mopey loner who tends to do the same thing musically at every outing, but I would remind them that this didn’t used to be the case. Though I stopped caring about the music after 2000, the albums that precede Daisies of the Galaxy are all deeply enjoyable (“Last Stop, This Town” is amazing and I wish he would do more things like that), but the ones that follow it range from mediocre to bad, although Everett manages to craft at least one real gem per album. Most of Hombre Lobo is a cut above mediocre (there are maybe 5 or 6 gems on this one, but I’m still not going to give the guy a pretentious, arbitrary number score) and I’ll probably keep this album around because I like half of it so much.
I think what Mr. E really needs is a good collaborator. His music is deeply personal (if I didn’t like the guy, I’d accuse him of crawling up his own ass and building a house there, but I do like the guy and, as I’ve said, he’s been through some shit) and it usually has the feel of being made by a dude in his basement studio, surrounded by instruments. What made his live album so enchanting, in part, was the sense I got that he was finally getting out of the house. Also, the arrangements for the live album were robust and beautiful – they showed E’s musical chops. So maybe Everett should phone up Danger Mouse, make an album with him, and then let EMI refuse to put it out. Or he could work with the Flaming Lips or someone else who’s lively and weird. Really, he just needs someone who will inspire him out of his comfort zone (notice I didn’t say “rut” – because I like Eels, remember) and let him explore his everydude loneliness in new and creative ways.
The aforementioned Eels diehards (and they do exist, and I’m glad they do) will probably like Hombre Lobo just fine, just as they like every Eels record just fine. If you’re new to them, you’re still better off with Daisies of the Galaxy. And, if that album rocks your world entirely, you could do lots worse than following it up with the purchase of Hombre Lobo.