Sunday, September 5, 2010

Eels: Tomorrow Morning (2010)


(Vagrant)

If singer-songwrietr E is like, oh, any other person who's made a living creatively, he's sick of hearing people tell him that his older stuff is better. I can apologize in advance all I want but I still have to say that E's older stuff is better. What troubles me is that in his case, I'm not convinced it has to be.

Many alt-rock centuries ago (which is to say, fifteen years back), Billy Corgan released a double album called Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. It didn't seem as though this double album existed because Corgan had a whole bunch of great songs lying around, enough to make two CDs instead of one -- it seemed like it was a double album because Corgan wanted to make a double album. Its length was its own story. The ruse worked; people bought it. Now Eels are bringing us the final installment of a "trilogy" of albums E instituted with Hombre Lobo last year. Released in rapid succession, the three are song cycles about relationships or something. The songs are mostly half-formed, the lyrics are mostly godawful, but look! Eels just released a trilogy of albums! Let's all give them our attention.

Tomorrow Morning, the newest record, is firmly in the middle quality-wise. Hombre Lobo was an average Eels record; End Times was dismal dullsville. This one won't excite your senses but it's not a bad album, at least musically. Behind his weary croak, E throws in some strange nods to circa-1997 trip-hop, somewhat disrupting the sameness of the songs and allowing a few of them to hop and skip and cavort a bit. Don't call it innovation, though; it's appropriated the way Sting coopted 1980s lite-jazz: window dressing for average or sub-average tunes.

But then again, the songcraft is more or less fine on the brighter efforts here. "Spectacular Girl," "Baby Loves Me," and "That's Not Her Way" are slight but catchy, fun tracks, catapulting the idea of E as a manic-depressive Ian Broudie back into consciousness. E's voice is more a liability than ever; at his age, he shouldn't be sounding as tired and ancient as Peter Gabriel does on this year's turgid Scratch My Back, especially on the first two vocal tracks, formless dirges both. The bigger problem is what he's singing. I don't recall noticing E's lyrics on his best albums, which is a good sign. Here, they're difficult to ignore. On one song he rhymes "sick" with "dick" and "pig" with "gig"; on another, "disposition" with "fishin'"; yet another, "pee" with "E." Simultaneously, he complains about being "shushed" by a "librarian." Another choice selection involves a girl who "sees the beauty in things we all miss."

Fuck it, I could just fill the rest of this review with verbatim quotes from this album's lyrics. "With a lustful admiration / I look upon you / Can't wait until tomorrow / The things that we'll do." "I feel my heart changin' in mysterious new ways." "Used to kind of bitter / Always had a babysitter / Now I'm feeling much fitter." "Used to be kind of cruel / Kind of a tool / Like a damn fool."

This could easily just be a temporary symptom of the songsmith well running dry, right? A few more drafts, maybe, and these songs might have gone somewhere; a bit more time spent on production and they could be memorable. There's nothing really unsalvageable. But when you're determined to make a Trilogy of Albums, I guess you throw in everything you've got. I still say, wouldn't people fondly remember twelve good songs more than thirty-odd mediocrities?

But E is still street, y'all. On "Baby Loves Me," he offers us a truly universal sentiment: "The record company hates me." Well, we've all been there.

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