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(Credit: Press / Gus Black)

Music

EELS scroll through the British pop history book for ‘Extreme Witchcraft’

EELS - 'Extreme Witchcraft
7.3

By bringing swagger, style and stellar playing back to the masses, EELS have unveiled an antidote to the post-Covid blues currently experienced all over England. Returning back to a slightly more conventional rock/pop format is wise of the band, especially considering the current climate, and while some fans may pine for the more outlandish properties of their trajectory, the album pushes along with energy, bravado and a convoy of pounding riffs.

Endlessly danceable, and produced with tremendous respect for the audio perspectives, the record doubles as both escapism from the plague, and a love letter to the British Isles, from which the album is almost entirely aimed at.

Rockers ‘Good Night on Earth’, a delightfully weird piece bolstered by some truly exhilarating drums, and ‘Strawberries and Popcorn’, laced in Beatlesque melody and attitude, should sound good onstage, if or when the band decides to return to British shores. Whether or not Mark Oliver Everett intended for the album to sound so quintessentially British is anyone’s guess, but the album feels like a jaunty stroll through the nation’s history, whether it’s saluting the little nothing’s in a jocular, Ray Davies like manner on ‘Stumbling Bee’, or throwing out a schmaltzy, skiffle-tinted number as 10cc might have done with the excellent ‘Grandfather Clock Strikes Twelve’.

Indeed, ‘Grandfather Clock Strikes Twelve’ is the album’s undisputed highlight, but there are other moments of confectionary pop that makes for pleasant first listening, not least the jazz-tinted ‘So Anyway’ which serves as the type of remedy after a turbo-charged evening spent in a sordid side-street club. The ballads work better than the out-and-out anthems, largely because they sound more relaxed and considered.

And nowhere is that more apparent than on the gravelly ‘Better Living Through Desperation’, a sub-standard desert rocker, written as if attempting to challenge Josh Homme’s as the reigning prince of alternative-Americana. If the album can claim a stinker, then this is it.

EELS sound better when they’re emulating the British rock numbers, which is fitting, precisely because they’ve always held a firm fan-base on this island. Everett has a malleability that can rival Damon Albarn‘s, although it’s his rival Noel Gallagher who seems to influence the vocal sound on ‘Learning While I Lose’, a jangly ballad that is commonly heard on the Oasis guitarist’s solo work. And then he turns the clock back in time for 1970s glam, as he bellows through ‘Steam Engine’, a thunderous pop number that recalls the more liberated vocals of Ian Hunter, Marc Bolan and Noddy Holder.

The album is inventive but could be more so, and it’s doubtful that the record will make anyone’s “Best of 2022” lists. It lacks the jaw-dropping moment of the earlier EELS records to merit it anything more than enjoyably-entertaining.

And yet it’s definitely entertaining, culminating in an album that sounds great on tape, and should sound even better on-stage. Furthermore, the album will certainly please those aching for something less introspective, and more explosive, after a protracted two-year pandemic that has set listeners pivoting down their own precarious path.

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