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Eels - Extreme Witchcraft (Album Review)

Friday, 28 January 2022 Written by Jacob Brookman

Photo: Gus Black

‘Extreme Witchcraft’ is the 14th album from Mark Oliver ‘E’ Everett’s Eels, and the second he has created over lockdown, here in collaboration with producer John Parish. It finds the 58-year old in typically sardonic temper, offering 12 tracks of fuzz guitar, ‘90s processed drums and slacker vocals. It is unmistakably Eels in ways both good and bad.

Let’s start with the good. Amateur Hour and Better Living Through Desperation are fun, squawky blues-rock tunes that have wit, charm and integrity on tap. E is at his most effective as an artist when his lyrical misanthropy is balanced with the chunky rhythms of his arrangements. It makes a humorous cocktail despite the lack of tangible gags in the lines—like one of those comedy films where you don’t actually laugh.

There is a familiar ruddy poise that’s bewitching when it lands. This is demonstrated on closer I Know You’re Right, a swung blueser that has E’s signature schlubby dynamism. "I can be that strong / when I’m wrong, I’m wrong… and I’m so wrong," he admits slash shouts.

Similarly, Grandfather Clock Strikes Twelve has the classic Eels feel to it, combining double-tracked vocals, bassy grooves and tinkly samples. It’s a sound and a brand and a good response to a creative brief and, to repeat, it’s unmistakable.

So what’s not to like? Well, the truth is that ‘Extreme Witchcraft’ is not a terribly interesting listen. To be carried along over the full length of the record you really need to find E himself a fascinating character or avatar, because his lyrics often aren’t. There is sometimes a tension between one person ‘bands’ or ‘groups’ that are really the brainchild of one single musician. Eels are one, Nine Inch Nails are another (Trent Reznor) and Beirut are another (Zach Condon).

When you are listening to a band, there is an implicit understanding that you are hearing truly collaborative, workshopped music. When you are listening to a solo artist, it’s far more about the individual’s storytelling and talent. ‘Extreme Witchcraft’ is a bit of each, but too often neither.

Eels Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows

Fri March 11 2022 - BELFAST Telegraph Bulding
Sat March 12 2022 - DUBLIN Olympia
Mon March 14 2022 - LONDON Roundhouse
Tue March 15 2022 - MANCHESTER Albert Hall
Wed March 16 2022 - GLASGOW Barrowland
Thu March 17 2022 - NOTTINGHAM Rock City
Fri March 18 2022 - SOUTHAMPTON O2 Guildhall

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