On his tenth album under the Eels moniker, Mark "E" Everett continues to follow his musical muse wherever it'll take him with Wonderful, Glorious. After so many records it seems like E would be well past the point of any new firsts, but this is the first album to be recorded in his expansive new studio, mysteriously named The Compound, as well as the first album written in collaboration with the rest of the band. This more open, organic process comes through on the songs, providing E and company with a refreshing amount of creative freedom after the relative confinement of doing a conceptual three-album trilogy (2009's Hombre Lobo and 2010's End Times and Tomorrow Morning). While this process and studio have made their impact musically, Eels fans can rest assured that E's melancholic, beaten-down lyricism remains intact. Proclaiming "Every time I find myself in this old bind, watching the death of all my hopes/In the ring so long gonna prove 'em wrong, I'm not knocked out but I'm on the ropes" during the sad yet hopeful "On the Ropes," the album finds Everett in a more grounded and, relatively, positive place.
It's not like Mark Oliver Everett (hereafter known as E) hasn't dealt with these themes before. His whole recording career, most of it done under the Eels moniker, has been full of brilliantly crafted pop songs that tour death, terminal illness, regrets, lost dear ones, a veiled belief in better days and times overlaid by thick angst, and now and then, actual bursts of bouncing joy and humor. So there's nothing really new thematically on the 11th Eels album, The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett, and even its sparse, stripped-down, and lightly orchestrated acoustic folk feel is something E has often visited. He turned 50 while writing these songs, so maybe that has something to do with the heavy and regretful tone that washes through these rather muted, weary, and almost whispered musings, few of which even rise to the tempo of a slow shuffle.
In 2014, Mark Oliver Everett received "the freedom of the City of London" (in essence, a key to the city) the same week as his band Eels performed and recorded this set at the Royal Albert Hall. There's a bit of irony here: four years earlier, he was arrested as a suspected terrorist while strolling through Hyde Park. The raucous Eels of Wonderful, Glorious is not the band that showed up for this concert (which is also captured so handsomely on video for inclusion in the package). This version of the band is in suits, not track wear. Everett is mostly at the piano. The Eels introduce the show with brief, lilting versions of "Where I'm At," Disney's "When You Wish Upon a Star" from Pinocchio, "The Morning," and "Parallels" before Everett greets the audience with a wry, humorous monologue.
A little boy, named Prdelka, traveled with his father from Prague to the country during the Second World War. There, the boy became friends with a local fisherman and learned to catch the golden eels. Eventually, his father and mother were arrested by the Nazis and the boy stayed with the fisherman.