I just spent a week without the internet. Not by choice I might add but the internet went down at home and I had to wait on the delivery of a new modem that took way longer than was expected to arrive (thanks PlusNet). Along with being home alone for two weeks this took me back to the first year I moved to Manchester where I neither had the internet nor a computer. I also haven’t watched TV regularly for about 15 years so, putting it mildly, I was a little bored. Now before I get people from either side of the ‘Digital Detox’ debate running at me, hatchets drawn, I am advocating neither “throw away your smartphone” nor “get over it, the internet is the way of life now”. My enforced digital detox was revealing in that I DO spend too much time online and I need to remedy that but also that my fiancé is American as is a significant proportion of my work, both of which requires an internet connection to maintain. Having the internet and a smartphone isn't just something I can dispose of for a 'better life'. Anyway, this isn’t a post about that. Though I will say if you choose to be one of those sanctimonious pricks who loves to patronise people about how they need to “look up from your phone and experience real life” in the description under a hashtag positivity post on fucking Instagram maybe keep your condescending trap shut?
No, this post, that coincidentally no one will see as well, is about the rediscovery of an album that seemingly did little business and I have heard nothing about since its release. In the gaping chasm of boredom that yawned open in front of me with the loss internet I filled my time reminding myself of stuff I used to do before 2012 when I got my first smartphone. Things like: listening to whole albums and not just putting one on in the background while I do something else or going through a playlist of individual songs, but actually going through my collection of albums and paying attention to each song. This is not to say I haven’t done this in the last 7 years, but I do it considerably less than I used to. Being the true hipster (as if that word has any meaning anymore) I am, I went through my vinyl records and organised them while putting some aside I wanted to listen to. One of those albums was Hombre Lobo by the Eels.
Released in 2009 Hombre Lobo was a few albums and two years after the sprawling, two-disc, 33 track album Blinking Lights and Other Revelations. I had gone through an Eels phase prior to that album’s release and had bought all the band’s previous LPs. Of those, only Electro Shock Blues leaves me cold. Not a bad album by any means but compared to Beautiful Freak, Daisies of the Galaxy, Shootenany and Souljacker it fell way short. Blinking Lights too, perhaps because of its size, didn’t measure up to previous efforts for me. A more introspective album on the whole, I’d hoped for maybe a more wide-ranging and experimental album but this one was just nice. Nothing wrong with that but not what I was after. There seemed to be a glut of these double-disk LPs around that time, Stadium Arcadium and In Your Honour both came out around the same era, a trend I’m actually quite glad died before it got going. Rare you hear anyone say the White Album or Exile on Main Street are their favourite Beatles or Stones albums. Anyway.
I guess I jumped ship on the Eels after that. The early 2000s (to my mind) was full of interesting and diverse music that I love to this day. It was short lived; this creative spurt died around 2005/6 I feel like. This mass of Good Shit however meant I was trying to follow up on a lot of these great albums and bands through the end of the 2000s. It took me a while to realise the rot had set in and by 2010 I was still hunting for the good stuff of previous years as the well, for me, had very much run dry. It was around then I remembered the Eels and decided to see what they had offered in the interim. Three albums had come out in the time since Blinking Lights so I bought the most recent (on Record, natch) Hombre Lobo. It arrived in glorious coloured vinyl and went straight on my expensive direct drive turntable into my fancy, over-powered home stereo amp, and out through my glorious near-field Tannoy speakers. All of which audiophile gumph is currently sat in a friend’s basement. Ah poverty, how you rob us of even simple pleasures… I digress. Track 1 Prize Fighter comes on and I immediately was on board. A kind of glam beat but stripped back, it is a template for the stripped back simplicity of the rest of the album. I loved it and the record stayed on my turntable for a couple of weeks and would frequently return over the course of that year. It made appearances at various DJ spots I did across Manchester too but once I moved out of that flat it kind of got put away and forgotten about. Which leads me to the other day…
I don’t have my turntable or stereo gear where I am so being home alone I finally had control of the ‘Retro Music Station’ in the front room to listen through. As such I was eager to dig the best of the best from my collection. Or at least ones that I loved dearly but had not listened to in a while. Two albums leapt out at me straight away. Bloc Party’s first LP Silent Alarm from 2003 and Hombre Lobo. I might do a retrospective on Silent Alarm too in another post but for now suffice it to say my love for that album has not aged either and it took me right back to my first flat away from home and all the heartache and triumphs of an 18/19 year old. For the other album, I mainly remembered the track tremendous dynamite being an absolute belter (which it is) but little of it came back to me. And it didn’t come back to me immediately putting the needle down either. But slowly, track by track, a nearly 10 year old album, an album I never see on ‘Best of’ lists or even singles from it reappear anywhere, wormed its way into my top 5 favourite albums by the end. I don’t know if it just hit me in the right mood or if it is just that good but goddamn, that album does not put a foot wrong anywhere in its 12 tracks.
You have to GET the Eels to enjoy this album as much as I do I think. E (or Mark Oliver Everett his real name) has a specific formula for his records: Sad strummy song, song with programmed beat, song with sub bass, minor song, major song, punky one, happy one, falsetto song, growly voiced song. The production is as important to an Eels record as much as the unpretentious, wry and heartfelt lyrics is. Keyboard sounds recur a lot: that bass sound, mellotron flutes or strings, that weird choir vocal sound etc, few of which appear on this album. Hombre Lobo leans harder on the trio sound of certain tracks of previous albums (Souljacker Pt.1 leaps to mind), a fact which already has my thumbs up. The reason for this I think is that E had refined his song writing to such an extent it didn’t need dressing up and these songs are all solid gold. Lyrically, instrumentally, in arrangement and more, every song is a perfect literal gem, E’s song writing style refined to near purity. Even the track listing is perfect, bouncing between melancholy lightness and melancholy heaviness to deliriously happy and manically triumphant joygasms from track to track all with the same simple instrumentation all squeezed through a slight overdrive. The whole thing, like all the best albums, is a measured selection of songs that compliment each other but don’t override each other. It has a ‘Vibe’, it definitely has a sound, but within in that is a vast wealth of emotions and sounds and grooves and all the stuff I want out of an album: diversity, originality and honesty. Hombre Lobo succeeds in everything it attempts and extends far beyond. It does require a familiarity with the Eels to really enjoy I think, but if you like plain old good song writing you can’t go wrong with this album either. It’s readily available and I would encourage everyone to track it down (not necessarily on Vinyl) and give it a go.
Track-wise the standouts for me are Tremendous Dynamite and Beginner’s Luck which I defy anyone not to have some sort of physical reaction to. These should be stone cold classics of their genre and, while vaguely derivative (what isn’t these days?), they achieve a purity to their sound not found elsewhere. Certainly not in this century. Fresh Blood errs more toward old-school Eels with its sub-bass and offkey noise sounds, while What’s A Man Gotta Do? Should be up there with the best of 60s fuzz-inspired fun. They’re my favourites but really all twelve prompt some sort of reaction, be that headbanging, painful yearning or shakin yo thang. Rediscovering this album was a real revelation for me and is helping me get back into making music I want to perform again. I would encourage anyone reading this to leaf through your old records, itunes library or CD collection to find forgotten gems and really LISTEN to them. It really is a tonic.
This is the first in what will be an occasional but hopefully ongoing series of retrospective reviews of albums I love and would like to see get more attention. Not that this format will help them in that endeavour but you know, whatever.