“I’ve been through a lot and you can’t scare me,” roars Mark Oliver Everett, aka E, aka Eels, at the beginning of “Prizefighter”, on the seventh album in the grandiose Eels discography. This works on both levels, for the protagonist of the song, as well as for E himself, who’s seen enough personal tragedy and heartbreak to fill a football stadium full of songs. Depression, sickness, suicides, et al. have garnered some powerful inspiration for E and yielded songs such as “Novocaine for the Soul”, “Cancer for the Cure”, and “Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues”, all demonstrating the creative lengths that the cynicism and sadness can scale.
With this in mind, Hombre Lobo is often light-hearted, underscoring the melancholy rather than introducing it as a lead player. The record is another concept album, as is Eels’ general want to do, and billed as twelve songs of desire. This rarely strays as far off as the carnal (“Lilac Breeze”, “Tremendous Dynamite”) with occasional intellectual and personal wishes (“That Look You Give That Guy”, “My Timing is Off”). Musically, it has moments as ferocious as anything else Eels has done, echoing back to the Souljacker days with a gruff distorted guitar and E’s bluesy wail (“Prizefighter”, “Tremendous Dynamite”).
What ultimately fails, however, in Hombre Lobo is that pesky idea of desire. E’s made an entire career of writing about desire, everything from the deep-seated need for somatic love to the quest for peace and stability. And what’s inevitably difficult, once you’ve assembled such an impressive body of work, is selling the fact that each of these tracks are the definitive songs of desire. Ironically, these may be some of the least convincing songs of E’s métier. Because, while he’s always been a blunt songwriter, “Girl, I want it bad/Girl I want it bad” doesn’t seem to thoroughly capture the artistry involved in a tune about desire.
Surely, Eels fans will find plenty to enjoy here, and all said and done, it’s a generally solid album, the sort that most musicians would probably like to have in their catalog. There are plenty of honest, thoughtful songs, dealing with introspective shortcomings, blatant lust, and (essentially) an auteur who comes to grips with who he is and is truly okay with it. For any other band not dragging along that higher standard with them, it could work; just not for Eels. As E even sings himself, “My timing is off/Sometimes that’s how it all works”. Couldn’t have summed it up any better.