"It's not all good and it's not all bad and don't believe everything you read."
On a dismally cloudy afternoon I came home from a funeral service with the intention of giving the Eels' new album, Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, a good listen. If what I'd read turned out to be true, I would be in need of some serious therapy by evening. What I found instead surprised me.
By 1998 Mark Everett, aka Eels frontman E, had lost his entire family- his father, sister, and mother, within a two year span. E's confrontation of these events and the resulting emotions gave birth to his most critically acclaimed album to date, the Electro-Shock Blues, and what E calls his most positive album ever. Following along the heavy lines of ESB, Blinking Lights sets out to address "all the questions related to the subject of God. It's also about hanging on to my remaining shreds of sanity and the blue sky that comes the day after a terrible storm, and it's a love letter to life itself, in all its beautiful, horrible glory."
You're beginning to understand now why so many reviewers find this to be a depressing album. But even on a rainy day, and even after a funeral, I take something different away from a listening. Something more akin to that scrap of blue sky that first appears after the storm, or the beauty in life that comes from standing tall again after being dealt a terrible blow. And ultimately these are the moments, and this message of strength and happiness in the face of tragedy, is what Blinking Lights is all about.
The first mistake people may make is in listening to this album incorrectly. It's a two disc album, containing 33 tracks inside 94 minutes of music. The key is to remember this is still a single album, meant to be listened to continuously if you want to feel the full message. Disc one is only part one- it poses the questions and takes the turn towards resolution, but it is still only half the story. My favorite song on this disc is track 9, 'Railroad Man,' a musically hopeful song of change and displacement but ultimate acceptance. "I know I can walk along the tracks/ It may take a little longer but I'll know how to find my way back." Of course, the interesting thing about this album is that even the most dire reviewers still pick three of four "standout tracks," and they rarely agree on which tracks there are, so favorites vary, and there are quite a few to choose from.
While there are a few up tempo sons on disc one, disc two contains the majority of the album's musically optimistic tracks. As in the entirety of the album, it is full of varied and multi-layered instrumentation that sometimes mirrors and sometimes opposes the mood of the lyrics…and then again, sometimes there are no lyrics- only instrumental interludes that help to develop the mood and theme of the album. To see what I mean about the music opposing and mirroring the lyrics, check out 'Hey Man (now you're really living)' on the second disc- it's hard to resist.
But to get the feel of the entire album in five minute's time (cheaters), listen to the last track on the second album, 'Things the Grandchildren Should Know.' It's the feel and the vibe and the message of the entire album, compressed into this one song. Beautifully, it is the album's resolution. As the track ends with rounds of acoustic guitar and slide guitar gradually being taken away from the sonic texture one strand at a time, you'll have that feeling of a storm moving on and the sun beginning to shine again, a new day begun.