Eels – Tomorrow Morning
I think it is fair to say that at the moment Eels really, really need editing. I was reading a piece in Word Magazine this month about how, for all the label system and extremely narrow number of media outlets stifled the ability of a lot of good music to reach the ears of the public (that was very much not the emphasis of the writer, he seemed to have less appreciation of the strong negative aspects of this bottleneck), at least there was a very effective filter between the infinite number of bands in the world and the finite amount of time people chose to commit to music appreciation.
Nowadays, he argued, we have to be the editors ourselves. Bands record and release anything and everything for no other reason than that they can, and we have to take personal responsibility for picking through it and separating the fragments of wheat from the avalanche of chaff.
Now, given the number of fine blogs and podcasts I myself enjoy I find his argument more than a little shaky, but there is a core of sense to his central point: when everything was more expensive and more complicated to do, people had to be damn sure they knew what they were doing before they went to all the effort of doing it. This pressed artists to be sure that every note of their work was essential, and it pressed labels and producers to be damn certain that the work they released was as packed to the brim with quality as it possibly could be – it generated the creative conflicts without which it is actually very difficult to produce good art.
As the ‘head of a label’ (yes, that sounds as ridiculous to me as it does to you, but I don’t know the right term for ‘a bloke sat in his spare bedroom with a photocopier and an internet connection’) I never interfere with the artistic choices made by the artists I work with. I’ve suggested changes to a piece of work no more than three times since I started doing this, twice that suggestion has been acted upon and once it was ignored – the right call on all three occasions, I think.
So I don’t really know how I would go about saying to a band ‘no, I don’t think that song needs to be on the album’ or ‘nah, I think it needs less instrumentation’ or anything like that. I take the stance that I am not a musician and therefore my capacity to contribute is probably pretty marginal.
Now, imagine you are dealing with someone like Mark Oliver Everett – E, of Eels. He has written a large number of my favourite songs of all time, and a good few of my favourite albums, and I am not alone there – it’s not like he has any need to prove anything to anyone anymore, and certainly not like he needs to justify his artistic choices to some jumped-up lackey at whatever record label he may chose to work with.
Nevertheless, his last three albums – Hombre Lobo, End Times and this one – were conceived, I believe, as a Triptych. This is the Return of the Jedi of the three – the triumph over adversity. The concept is lovely. Quite a few of the songs are absolutely gorgeous. But I have a nagging feeling that the whole business really could have been trimmed – and I mean brutally trimmed – and achieved a lot more impact.
There are a lot of songs on these three albums which we have very definitely heard before from Eels. On this album alone Spectacular Girl and I Like the Way This is Going are the slightest reworkings of songs from Blinking Lights, and tracks like The Look You Give That Guy on End Times seems to be communicating something E has said so many times before that I really do wonder if it needed a whole new song for such an incremental change in sentiment.
I don’t know how you tell someone who has obviously achieved so much and shown time and again that he is one of the best songwriters of his generation that he really needs to be more unforgiving when it comes to deciding what does and does not merit a full commercial release. These three albums could really easily have been whittled down to three EPs, maybe even all on one CD, and maybe a bonus CD of sketches – the songs which didn’t make the cut recorded in a simple acoustic session perhaps – and you would have had an album of highly concentrated Eels brilliance, along with some enigmatic sketches of songs to give you a glimpse into the thought process which goes into producing an album.
As it is, this feels like a glass of orange cordial which has been diluted with far, far too much water. To return to the original point made by Word, perhaps if it still cost a shitload of money to record and release an album, some record executive would have forced this glut of material through a very strict funnel and turned it all into one album.
Whilst this would have been a great benefit to this record, I am not prepared to be so fickle as to wish for a return to the days when the making of music was so out of reach of all but the chosen few. Where I do agree with Word, however, is that now we can record and release everything and there is no reason not to, we need to become just a little bit more savvy about what is an album release and what is a curious extra for the uber-fan.
Eels – That’s Not Her Way
Eels – The Man