A really lovely album.
Elliot Ridgewell | 11/10/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Considering this album was recorded over the space of a few weeks during a break from the 'Blinking Lights. . . ' sessions it's absolutely wonderful. Not that you can tell, however, how much time was spent making it: it doesn't sound at all rushed or patchy, and in fact it's a very coherent collection of songs. The album has a beautiful, fragile simplicity, especially on subdued songs like 'The Good Old Days', 'Love of the Loveless', and 'Numbered Days', but even the rockier tracks, like 'Saturday Morning' and 'Wrong About Bobby', fit in perfectly with the atmosphere.
Two definite standout tracks for me are 'Rock Hard Times' and 'Restraining Order Blues'. The former is a wonderfully catchy song, with brooding but defiant lyrics, featuring some great lines ("Hollywood lies piled up to the sky / Floating your way soon / Hope you like the rotten stench of doom. . ."), while the latter (which happens to be next on the disc) is written from the perspective of a stalker -- or at least someone who's had a restraining order taken out against them, as the title suggests -- and is, oddly, one of the most heartbreaking songs I've ever heard.
Initially I thought 'All in a Day's Work' was one of the weaker tracks, but after repeated listening I think it's a brilliant opener, setting the tone well for the beautiful, sometimes quirky, introspective material that follows. Having said that, though, this is probably eels' most straightforward album, in that you get the sense that E wasn't concerned here with exorcising demons or with overt experimentation, but was simply writing songs for the sake of writing songs (that's not to say that the tracks don't have emotional depth, however; E seems largely incapable of spewing out banality or mediocrity).
The one weak point for me, however, has to be 'Agony'. Usually E has a great talent for matching the emotional content of his lyrics with the music, but here I think he slips into. . . whining. That seems a little harsh in view of the personal tragedies that he's been afflicted with, but I just can't see how this track made it onto the album, because it's lyrically substandard for E and seems to lack tune and direction, and really adds nothing to the album as a whole. 'Agony' is pretty much the only reason I gave this four stars instead of five, because I do really love this album as a whole, but that's precisely why that song's presence annoys me so much; I think it would be almost flawless (at least in terms of what it sets out to do) without that track, and the fact that it sits smack bang in the middle of the disc just makes it worse.
Anyway, that's enough pointless whining from me (hypocritical in light of my above comments). Back to being positive: 'Fashion Awards' is another excellent song; like a darkly humourous lullaby. The chorus ("We'll blow off our heads in despair"), sung as if soothing a baby to sleep, is brilliantly incongruous and. . . well, it's just a great song. The album finishes with the upbeat, life-affirming, 'Somebody Loves You', and coming from E it doesn't seem a cheesy way to end the album at all, but a heartfelt message of hope. Altogether, I'd probably give it four and a half stars, maybe even 4.8 or something; but I've rounded it down to 4 because I'm a very petty man. Don't let that put you off, though; it's a fantastic little album, and maybe you'll like 'Agony' anyway, or at least be more tolerant of it than I am. I'd definitely recommend this to. . . anyone, really."