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If you weren’t acquainted with Los Feliz, California band EELS’s nine albums prior to this month’s Wonderful, Glorious, it wouldn’t be such a revelation. The album is sprinkled with feel-good songs with grunge-rock inspiration, thanks to lead singer Mark “E” Everett’s signature, scratchy cords. For fans of EELS, this album is the last thing one would expect after 2010’s Tomorrow Morning this group has made its name on angst and tortured soul, but Wonderful, Glorious is as jam-packed with genuine optimism as its title suggests.
These thirteen tracks, clocking in at over an hour, come at an interesting point in the band’s career, specifically in the case of frontman Everett. With an autobiography, documentary, and absolutely no shying from personal material in previous EELS releases, listeners may be left wondering what fresh confession the 49-year-old has to bring to the table. Instead, we hear Everett and the five-piece band force themselves out of their melancholy corner into a more accessible, friendly sound. Wonderful, Glorious marks the first release from EELS in five years that isn’t a portion in their conceptual series—their past three albums (2009’s Hombre Lobo and 2010’s Tomorrow Morning) all drew from the band’s standby themes of disappointment, love lost, and overcoming the obstacles that appear in Everett’s life time and time again, but this release suggests a light at the end of the tunnel.
So what, exactly, does E have to be so happy about? “You know what? I’m in a good mood today,” he admits at the top of most recent single “New Alphabet,” using his rock vocals to new purpose in a more mainstream pop-funk than EELS has ever dare tread near. Opening with the aggressive forward motion of “Bombs Away,” the album gives way to more tame tunes that are meditations on their early career. “On the Ropes” stand out as Everett’s signature confessional ballad, and the title track plays the album out in a consistently smell-the-roses spirit, but it’s the album’s first single “Peach Blossom” that stands as Wonderful, Glorious’ lyrical triumph.
Tonally, EELS’s latest release does a couple of flip-flops, but the unusual energy that pulses through every track is enough to keep listeners new and old on board. Filler tracks like the cookie-cutter “You’re My Friend” are often sandwiched between more significant tracks like “Wonderful, Glorious” and “Open My Present” and feel a little lost in a sea of shorter, catchier pieces. Although it’s always an experience to take a ride on the rollercoaster of Mark Everett’s emotions, this one could have been fifteen minutes shorter. The album’s saving grace is Everett’s daring use of his vocals, one of the only recognizable EELS hallmarks that carries through this album. Whether he’s singing about personal tragedy or a message as simple as “I wanna open a present,” the guy is always a pleasure to listen to.
If there’s such a thing as grunge rock drenched in optimism, Wonderful, Glorious is it. A diehard EELS fan will certainly be taken aback by this release’s abrupt departure in tone and message, but it’s not a bad introduction to a group that’s gradually proving they’re aging with grace.