I haven’t written too many of these this year, partly because school was having its way with me from January through May, but also because there just hasn’t been much new music I’ve felt like talking about. But I can’t get these two new albums out of my car lately:
I’ve used this space to pimp Clumsy Lovers before, but fuck it, they’ve got a new album out and I think it’s the best thing they’ve ever done, so I’m going to do it again. They’ve been around for years, but I’d never heard of them until their last album, After the Flood, a dizzying mix of sharp-tongued pop and roots music played with blissful abandon. It was one of the best albums of 2004, if you ask me (and you may as well, because I just told you anyway). Smart Kid takes Flood and turns it up to eleven.
I’m not sure how to adequately describe what the Clumsy Lovers do — this is the kind of music that critics often like to describe as “quirky,” which I guess it is, but not always willfully so — this stuff is just such a skillful melange of seemingly opposing genres that “quirky” is the easiest way to sum it up. Think of some really solid, clever pop music, then toss it in a blender with what you’d imagine coming out of a tent in a traveling musical roadshow at the turn of the century, and maybe that’ll come close. Heaps of banjo, mandolin, fiddle, et cetera, but this is not your great-grandaddy’s roots revival. If Nettwerk markets the band properly, they could be huge. Nobody else sounds like this right now. Hear for yourself:
I’ve never had much use for Eels. The band is essentially just a front for a songwriter who used to just call himself E. Those of us who heard his unfortunate lump of a solo album, A Man Called E, regarded the coming of Eels with distrust. Personally, I’ve been less than impressed with any of the Eels albums, but druggy slacker music isn’t my thing; I must be in the critical minority, though, because I don’t think I’ve read a less than four-star review for anything they’ve ever released. Anyway, I’m not sure why exactly I took a gamble on Blinking Lights. I read a review that called it the band’s “masterpiece,” snorted derisively to myself, and then thought, “Well, maybe:”
For all of his tiresome lyrical preoccupations — death, failure, loneliness, despair — E has been fairly grounded musically as a ‘member’ of Eels. The effect can be ingratiating under the right circumstances, like a peppier Depeche Mode, but it wears thin quickly. You’d think an Eels double album would be one of the most dull and depressing things you could sit through, but Blinking Lights represents a great leap forward in E’s artistic development. The old themes are still there, but the darkness is leavened with actual light — up ’til now, “happy” Eels songs tended to be delivered with a caustic smirk, but here, on songs like “Losing Streak” and “Blinking Lights (For Me),” E seems to have finally found a way to reconcile his relentless fatalism with a genuine love for life. Which is not to say it’s all sunshine and roses here, but when things go wrong, they’re embraced as part of a beautiful, messy whole, rather than taken as if they’re just one more shot on the chin.
It’s quite good. It takes real talent to cram the joy and desperation of life into a three-minute pop song, and E does it here. Give this handful of tracks a listen:
Eels – Losing Streak | Eels – Blinking Lights (For Me) | Eels – Railroad Man | Eels – The Stars Shine in the Sky Tonight | Eels – Things The Grandchildren Should Know | Eels – Losing Streak | Hey Man (Now You’re Really Living)
Tomorrow will bring a brand new Complete Idiot’s Guide, so get the David Wilcox while you can!