E is back, sporting a ZZ Top beard and a new wolf-man persona. It's been 5 long years since his last proper album, a somber and inward-focused double-CD set entitled "Blinking Lights and Other Revelations." As is typical for Mr. E, quieter albums tend to be followed by noisier ones. However, no matter what ideas E is trying on for size, everything he records is stamped with his unique and compelling persona. This one is no exception.
Sometimes wearing a mask allows us the freedom to show a side of ourselves that we might otherwise be afraid to reveal. Here, E has assumed a persona of sorts, which differs from anything his audience has seen to date. He's a lusty, swaggering wolfman, carrying a cane and prowling the night. This assumed role seems to allow him to project a confidence unheard in much of his material, displayed most clearly on the opening track "Prizefighter" and the single "Fresh Blood." But what makes this album most compelling is when E drops the guise and reveals his true insecurities, as on "The Look You Give That Guy." That dichotomy makes this wolfman seem all the more human, for beneath the fuzz and fangs still lies a fundamentally reflective and at times insecure person.
The conceptual aspect of this disc is fun and meaningful, but never threatens to overwhelm the content. Song-for-song, this is one of E's best collections. Almost every one of these tracks could stand on its own as a single. The stripped-down sound that E has featured on some of his rawer albums (Souljacker, for example) is in full effect and really works in E's favor. Overall the man sounds energized, mature and confident, always with something interesting and often poignant to say.
E remains the consummate cult artist, and in many ways it's not surprising. His unflinching portraits of insecurity and emotion take some getting used to, especially in the current musical climate. Each project he records is something unique and interesting. This is one of his best to date.