“I’ve had enough of being complacent,” sings indie-rock outcast Mark Oliver Everett at the offset of his band’s 10th studio album, his trademark smoker-cough croon nestled over muted tom-toms, spook-house organs and screeching distortion. “Bombs away!” he shrieks with paranoid, nuclear-fallout urgency, “Gonna shake the house!”
On the whole, Wonderful, Glorious isn’t as explosive as that barn-burning opener (“Bombs Away”) may suggest—there’s plenty of dream-pop balladry, swampy spy-theme grooves and psychedelic headphone drizzle scattered throughout. But it feels as raw and immediate as anything Eels have released in nearly a decade. And from a purely sonic standpoint, Wonderful, Glorious mostly lives up to its pompous title, balancing the dizzy, major-key psych-pop of “I Am Building a Shrine” (which climaxes in a trippy flurry of whistling and vocal harmonies) with the country-tinged chime of “On the Ropes” and the glitchy electronics of “You’re My Friend.” But Everett (or E) has a knack for sucking the zeal out of his music, singing every single melody in that same zonked-out, strained, Cohen-on-crack rasp—one that grows exponentially irritating as the songs wear on.
Most Eels albums are structured as meditations on some kind of Big Theme (God, death, failed relationships), but lately, E’s loosened up a bit, writing more about the joys of love and fresh-air optimism. Wonderful, Glorious continues that trend, but the carpe diem spirit feels awkwardly forced: On “You’re My Friend,” E hardly bothers to write lyrics at all, coming off like a recovering AA member half-assing his Ninth Step: “You’re my friend,” he croaks, hovering just outside of in-tune, “and you’ve done a lot of really nice things for me.” “I’ll live today like tomorrow I’m dead,” he sings in monotone on the murky “New Alphabet,” his pulse slowly flat-lining in the present. Like Wonderful, Glorious itself, these are lifeless non-revelations married to engrossing tunes.