CD Review of Hombre Lobo: 12 Songs of Desire by Eels
Eels: Hombre Lobo: 12 Songs of Desire
Recommended if you like
Beck, Parthenon Huxley, Weezer
Label
Vagrant
Eels:
Hombre Lobo:
12 Songs of Desire

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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T
o a lot of people, if Eels are remembered at all, it’s only for their medium-sized alterna-hit of 1996, "Novocaine for the Soul" – but unlike a lot of bands that bubbled briefly onto the FM dial in the ‘90s, never to return, Eels have done their most interesting work away from the spotlight, culminating with 2005’s sprawling, undersold double-disc opus, Blinking Lights and Other Revelations. Since Lights, the band – really a fluid collective led by singer/songwriter Mark "E" Everett – has taken an uncharacteristically long studio break; apart from a new song on the "Yes Man" soundtrack, the only new Eels product over the last four years has been a live album and a pair of career-spanning compilations collecting "hits" and B-sides.

Eels

All that time off has produced Hombre Lobo: 12 Songs of Desire, and though it’s being billed as a sort of concept album, don’t worry; Everett hasn’t spent the last four years putting together a 21st-century version of Tales from Topographic Oceans, and rather than prog standbys like ancient civilizations, fairies, or armadillo tanks, this dozen-song cycle is focused squarely below the belt. Matter of fact, it doesn’t play like a concept album at all – you can listen to it without any idea that there’s supposed to be a theme, and the only thing you’ll notice about the song sequencing is that Everett has done a great job of balancing ballads with up-tempo tracks.

That balance is pretty literal, actually – Lobo opens with the bluesy fuzzbox stomp of "Prizefighter," moves into the coolly jealous pop ballad "The Look You Gave That Guy," and repeats the pattern for the duration of the album. Things heat up with a rocker, like the torn and frayed "Lilac Breeze," which sounds like a sock hop heard on the AM band of a transistor radio – then they cool down with something sweet and lovely, like "In My Dreams." It reads like a gimmick, but it actually works really well; older listeners, who remember when an album’s sequencing still really mattered, may find themselves feeling nostalgic for the days when artists worked harder at holding a listener’s attention from the first track to the last.

Of course, establishing a mood is one thing; what really matters is whether the songs hold up, and although it doesn’t necessarily sound like an album four years in the making, Hombre Lobo delivers more of the cleverly damaged pop and Martian blues that Eels fans have come to expect. In very loose terms, the band’s sound here suggests something like a mash-up between Weezer and the Black Keys, but that doesn’t really tell the whole story; neither of those bands could pull off the menacing, feral swagger of "Fresh Blood," for instance, or cop a British Invasion vibe as subtly as Lobo’s "What’s a Fella Gotta Do" – or serve up something as delicately, heartbreakingly lovely as "All the Beautiful Things."

It isn’t Eels’ best work – after Blinking Lights, just about anything would have felt like a comedown – and Everett’s distortion fetish does start to feel rather stale after a while. But if you’re already a fan, it won’t let you down – and if you like your pop music a little left of center, and have either lost track of the band or missed out on hearing them, this isn’t a bad place to start.

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