It was Van Gogh who said that one must suffer for art. If that is true, then the loss of several family members explains how the Eels turned out an album like "Blinking Lights and Other Revelations." Their sixth album breaks away from their past work, into a two-disc album saturated with death, God, questions and desolate grandeur.
"Blinking Lights and Other Revelations" has been worked on, on and off, throughout the past decade, which makes it a bit uneven in places. Every band grows and changes, and so do the songs included here. But after a quiet, twinkly intro, the Eels launch into expansive folk-rock, country, explosive rock'n'roll, hallucinogenic music-box music, delicate piano pop, and melancholy songs dripping with whiskey and depression.
The first disc is a hodgepodge of styles, veering without rhyme or reason from one style to another. The second is a bit softer and milder -- despite the odd rock song like "Losing Streak," it relies more heavily on the poignant acoustic tunes, bits of experimental music, and delicate piano tunes.
Mark "E" Everett's voice has been worn to a croak in places, but he can still emote with the best of them."The stars shine in the sky tonight/like a path beyond the grave/when you wish upon that star/there's two of us you need to see," he sings mournfully over piano and swelling strings. He sounds tired and a bit croaky, but he pulls through on most songs.
There's no such unsteadiness in the Eels' music -- in fact, they sound more confident than ever before. It's rooted in guitar, drums and other typical rock instruments. But the Eels have spiced it up with piano, strings, eerie sound effects, bells, electric organ, xylophone and creaking hinges. Yes, creaking hinges -- at least that's what it sounds like.
But in virtually every album, there's a flaw, and there is here too. "Blinking Lights and Other Revelations" is a bit too big for its own good -- E lets his eccentric tastes run wild, and the result has no continuity. On the second disc, for example, there's a stretch of quiet songs interrupted by an uptempo rocker. And it could have used a little pruning here and there, with one or two songs that don't measure up, and could have been clipped out with no harm to the overall album.
Despite being a bit too big for its own good, "Blinking Lights and Other Revelations" is a slow, unsteady, beautifully overblown experience, a little bit wacky and a lot poignant.