Before I Cave In
I got teased by Nick Cave last week. A fortnight before his new studio album with The Bad Seeds, titled Push the Sky Away, was to be released , he released a video of one of the songs, Jubilee Street. It stars the English actor, Ray Winstone, whom you may have watched in many movies playing tough, gritty roles. He’s been in tons of movies but my favourite Winstone movie is Sexy Beast from 2000 where as a retired burglar and an ex-convict, he is being menacingly coaxed by Ben Kingsley (who plays a former associate) to pull off another heist. I’ve a DVD of Sexy Beast somewhere and sometimes while looking for other films, I discover it and before long it’s running on my TV screen. Winstone is great in the movie but Kingsley as a violent sociopath is super – a far cry from his role in Gandhi!
Jubilee Street is set in London’s East End and involves a prostitute and her john, played by Winstone. The video is a bit NSFW, but what a great song it is! Cave also released one more single in audio format from his forthcoming album – it’s called, strangely, We No Who ’U ’R. It’s mellow and beautiful and if the two songs are an indication, I’m going to be totally in the Nick Cave zone when Push the Sky Away is available in its entirety. Can’t wait.
So, left to a choice of devices while waiting for the full album – (a) opt to listen to old Cave albums or (b) choose something else to kill the time with – I chose the latter option. I gathered up a new album, Wonderful, Glorious, the newest from the American alternative
rock band, Eels. I’d been out of touch with the Eels for a long while. Back in 1996, from Mumbai’s then fantastic music store, Rhythm House, I’d bought a cassette of their first studio album, Beautiful Freak, and I remember how it used to do non-stop rounds on my car’s stereo system. Novocaine for the Soul was the first song on that album and was, at least for me, the high point of Beautiful Freak. In the years that followed, I’d grazed around in the Eels catalogue semi-seriously and not really gravitated to obsessive listening of the band. But now, with Wonderful, Glorious, I decided to give them another shot.
If the title of the album seems, well, wonderful and glorious, you’ve got to see the cover – it’s orange and it has a warplane that seems straight out of WWII dropping a few bombs. The Eels have gone through many personnel changes but frontman, main lyricist and singer Mark Everett has been constant through the years. Thank the heavens for that.
Everett is sometimes known simply as E. His lyrics are gentle, thoughtful and, sometimes even wonderful. The songs are not. Not gentle, I mean. And thank the heavens for that as well. Everett growls when he sings and delivers even lyrics that are romantic or sentimental with an attitude that can best be described as being grim and sardonic. It’s difficult to describe if you haven’t heard E sing but I’ll try and give you an example. On Open My Present, a song towards the end of the album, the lyrics are simple and go like this: “I wanna open my present/look at it wrapped up in little big bones/back up tight just waiting for me/rip it open and set it free./ Relieve my state, I just can’t wait/well, I’m a good boy, I behave myself/I’ve been patient and waiting so long…” and so on. There’s nothing extraordinary there, just very simple words about opening a present really. But when you hear Everett sing it, it becomes a growling anthem that can rock an arena. Wonderful, Glorious’ cover pic of the bomb-dropping plane now makes sense.
Much of the new Eels album is just that. Songs with simple lyrics – some of them with even gentle feelings. But delivered in a muscular, yes-we-will-rock-you-no-matter-what growl that makes them endearing. I tried Wonderful, Glorious as a soundtrack for my workout and the workout was, well, wonderful, if not glorious. More seriously, the Eels are back on my radar. And, even more seriously, I think their new album is a good first act to listen to while you warm up for Cave’s new album. Wonderful, Glorious comes in a deluxe version and, if you buy that, you get, in addition to the 13 new songs, a bonus of 13 more – many of them live performances by the band at gigs in the past two years. And, all of them, wonderful and glorious. Needless to say, my wait for Cave’s new album has been a breeze.
If you missed – the recently Grammy anointed – Black Keys’ many faceted guitarist, Dan Auerbach’s (if you remember, he produced New Orleans’ legend, Dr John’s come-back album, Locked Down, last year, besides collaborating with dozens of musicians in the last five years) solo album from 2009, Keep it Hid, I suggest you get hold of it. True, Auerbach, on his own and without the other half of his band, drummer Patrick Carney, sounds a bit like, well, The Black Keys but then who said that was a bad thing?