Album Review: Earth to Dora // Eels

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I have followed the Eels for most of their career, which has often been a rollercoaster ride through the dark recesses of Mark ‘E’ Everett’s emotional turmoil set to a jangly music box soundtrack. With Earth to Dora we arrive at album number thirteen. Given the record charts the rise and fall of a relationship, we are deep into emotional territory, which bodes well – but will this be unlucky number thirteen?

Like the relationship we are being told the story of, the album begins with the optimistically sweet ‘Anything for Boo’. By Eels’ standards, this as positive as it gets. “Anything for Boo, my love is true” sings E above simple cheery guitar chords. The optimism tempers slightly when the gears switch into ‘Are We Alright Again’ as the singer seeks reassurance from his partner. This is the only track recorded since the pandemic hit and brings echoes of the lockdown world with the line “birds and bees jamming, the tune from the neighbourhood”.

The melancholy starts to seep into the album as E wonders “Are you who you say you are/ Someone I’ll know for long/ Or someone who doesn’t deserve a song” on the beautifully understated ‘Who You Say You Are’. Yet even as the tone changes, the album feels light and melodic, less experimental than much of their work. This is especially so on the breezy title track, which seems to act as a pause in the story the album tells.

Unsurprisingly, the darkness deepens on ‘Dark and Dramatic’. With brooding vocals accompanied by a mandolin, the track manages to sound like a lullaby. “I love her so much/ Why she messing it up?/ Maybe something in her past/ Makes her sure it won’t last” signals the direction of the relationship and tone of the album.

Any longtime Eels fans wondering if E has abandoned the knack of delivering negativity in an ironic and catchy manner will feel reassured by ‘Are You Fucking Your Ex’. Despite the accusatory tone of the track name, the bluesy ambience makes the song sound anything but dour. I suspect anyone accused in this manner would be unsure whether to laugh or panic.

With its heavy percussion based backing and a raspy sounding E, ‘Gentle Souls’ signals the end of the relationship with the opening lyrixs: “I chewed her up and threw her out / Out on the street like a garbage sack”. Whilst these lines make for uncomfortable reading, this is another easily accessible track. 

On ‘Of Unsent Letters’ we get the hint of a twist in the plot of this relationship. Set in the future, “Dear, long lost love / It is me/ The one who gave up” the singer begins. Here the tone has changed with the ache of melancholy permeating the track through weeping strings and a solemn guitar, a mood that continues into ‘I Got Hurt’.

As we head towards the conclusion of this opus, we step into the reflective ‘OK’. “I got hurt, so what?” A Lou Reed-esque Everett speaks. Accompanying him are the gentle refrains of a keyboard and yet more simple guitar chords.  ‘OK’ feels like it a pause before a grand reveal. 

The reveal comes in the plot twist played out by the much fuller soundscape, heavier guitar chords and key changes of ‘Baby Let’s Make it Real’. Is this right, an Eels album heading towards a happy conclusion? It sounds that way as we get the cheesy lyrics “Baby, you’re a full meal / The way you make me feel” For me, this track and the final song ‘Waking Up’ are the weakest on the album. The irony is that two of the most dour sounding tracks are signalling an optimism as E signs off with the line “waking up next to you is all I really want”

Earth to Dora was inspired by E’s real life brief marriage and divorce, which lacked the happy ending of the album. However, for fans of the Eels, this is lucky number thirteen. Like the romance chronicled in the soap-opera styled album this feels like we have come full circle. In a year powered by nostalgia, this feels like a true return to form, even if we get the unexpected twist of E sounding optimistic. Given the lifetimes of pain Everett has endured in just one life, that makes Earth to Dora even more special.

Words by Andrew Butcher
Check out Andrew’s blog here.

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