Album: Eels – Earth to Dora review

by Phil Scarisbrick

Earth to Dora has all the familiarity of checking in on an old friend

In his memoir, Things The Grandchildren Should Know, Eels frontman, Mark Oliver Everett – AKA Mr. E, says ‘Life is so full of unpredictable beauty and strange surprises. Sometimes that beauty is too much for me to handle. Do you know that feeling? When something is just too beautiful? When someone says something or writes something or plays something that moves you to the point of tears, maybe even changes you.’ I’ve often wondered if that extends to his own work. He has always managed to wrap the darkest, and most heartbreaking subjects up in incredible melodies, and with soundtracks that are just as moving.

This darkness isn’t misplaced. He found his father’s body after he had taken his own life, and his mother died of cancer just two years after his sister, Elizabeth, who also took her own life. These experiences would leave such a weight on a person that it would be impossible for their imprint not to be permanent. Wounds heal, bones weave themselves back together, but mental scars live on like the fractured terra firma left behind after an earthquake. They may be covered up by the sprouting of new life, but they will always shape the environment around them.

For someone who has had as much profound sadness in his life, it is great to hear that the Mr. E we catch up with in 2020 seems to be so content. Earth To Dora is packed with humour and joy, and while there is still a splash of melancholy present, such as the overt-as-you-like Are You Fucking Your Ex?, it doesn’t so much define the album as ground it in reality. This yin yang approach to the tonal composition of the record acts not only as an interesting journey for the listener, but also gives us a rounded, nuanced view of Everett as a human being.

The singles of Are We Alright Again, Baby Let’s Make It Real as well as the opener Anything For Boo, all play on the characteristics that have always endeared their music to fans. The open-wound honesty mixed with wry humour, channelled through one of indie rock’s most recognisable voices, is unlikely to win over those who have always been apathetic towards Eels, but for existing fans it allows us to check in with an old friend.

Of Unsent Letters is a highlight, with its Lennon-evoking melodies surfing gently across a wave of bright electric guitar strums. The circling backward-delay guitars and encroaching strings provide the lightness of touch of ocean spray in the face of the listener – making enough impact to make you feel its presence without ever overwhelming you.

Earth to Dora isn’t familiar because it follows a lazy blueprint or generic pattern. It’s familiar because Everett feels like family. Like a postcard from a loved one, he is checking in with a little flavour of where he is at the moment. And there really is nobody else who does it quite like Eels.

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