Four albums, three deaths and eight years have come between the inception of the Eels’ new album and its release this April. Fittingly, Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, the band’s two-disc sixth album, is an epic affair, or — as guest Tom Waits described it — “a Baked Alaska.”
Comparisons to a hot frozen dessert might seem odd, but as Eels mastermind E explains, “He’s talking about the juxtaposition between the lyrics and the music.” Blinking Lights does indeed contain contrasts: humor and sadness, and warm strings and acoustic guitars mixed with cool electronic noises and samples.
The album began with the title track and came together in bits and pieces along the way, as E was watching old Ingmar Bergman films. “I had this moment where I thought, ‘Make it a Swedish car trip,'” he says. “I realized that it needed to be expanded and become this reflection of a life.”
For the first time since 1998’s Electro-Shock Blues and 2000’s Daisies of the Galaxy, E deals explicitly with the loss of his mother to cancer and his sister to suicide, as well as the more recent death of a cousin on 9/11. “Things won’t get much better/Until they get much worse/I am stronger than the curse,” he sings on “Checkout Blues,” sounding like he is reassuring himself of something he knows intellectually but doesn’t yet feel to be true. “Most of these songs are really me trying to comfort myself,” he says, “and saying things that I want somebody to say to me.”
Because of his misfortunes and unflinching ability to address them, E has become the very un-Sting-like “King of Pain,” and Blinking Lights manages to build anthemic sing-alongs out of despair. “Hey Man (Now You’re Really Living)” opens, “Do you know what it’s like to fall on the floor/And cry your guts out ’til you got no more/Hey man now you’re really living/Have you ever made love to a beautiful girl/Made you feel like it’s not such a bad world/Hey man now you’re really living.”
At the same time, like its predecessors, Blinking Lights is drenched in humor, and Eels acolytes will pride themselves on being in on the joke. “Humor has been how I’ve communicated since I was a little kid,” E explains. “I was one part sarcastic little kid and one part completely introverted — a strange mix, and much like I am now.”
An Eels fan himself, Waits insisted on crying, screaming or bleating his Blinking Lights contribution. The veteran crooner gets to do all three at once on the retro dance number “Going Fetal.” “He’s brilliant,” E says. “He comes up with these Waits-isms that totally make sense but come off the top of his head.”
Humor aside, E is serious, and humble, about his mission. “I wouldn’t be alive without music, and I just thank God I’ve had that to focus on,” he says. “This album took so long to make and it was a lonely path to trod down, but I hope everyone thinks it was worth it.”