Eels fans who've been waiting for Mark Oliver Everett to conceive another album as focused and moving as 1998's meditation-on-mortality Electro-Shock Blues should be both pleased and disappointed with Blinking Lights And Other Revelations. It's an ambitious concept album, dedicated to contemplating aspects of the divine in everyday life, but it's also a daunting chunk of music, consisting of 33 songs spread over two 45-minute discs. That's a lot of Eels to take in, given that so many of the songs work the same musical and thematic angle, as Everett mumbles sad little stories over rinky-dink piano or acoustic guitar, accompanied by a swirl of horns, strings, and electronics.
A lot of Blinking Lights' sad little stories are among the best Everett has ever written, though, and their overwhelming quantity makes the record an immersive experience. Everett has often had to fight his own gift for memorable melodies and effective arrangements in order to make his music challenging and meaningful, and he's often lost that battle, going too sweet or too sour, or writing facile songs that sound like especially clever, especially grating commercial jingles. On Blinking Lights, he rarely tries to dazzle, except on the occasional show-stopper like the puckish dance track "Going Fetal" or the pummeling "Old Shit/New Shit." Most of the songs here are short and quiet, rising like the foam in a glass of beer, then dripping slowly over the edge. Even uptempo songs like "Hey Man (Now You're Really Living)" have a rough, unassuming quality.
Sometimes the unfinished feel comes off as merely sloppy, and on a song-by-song basis, maybe only 15 or 20 of these tracks are true keepers. But the slight instrumentals and occasional thudders work as a buffer between powerful songs like "If You See Natalie," about a sick woman clinging to life for the sake of her friends and family. Blinking Lights is a junk heap dotted with pretty flowers; the casual assortment of waste and wonders only increases the impact of "In The Yard, Behind The Church," which finds a quiet place for meditation (and making out), and the doleful "Whatever Happened To Soy Bomb," which relates the here-today-gone-later-today news cycle to the general meaninglessness of life. Blinking Lights shambles along, intermittently rewarding, to its sweet finale, "Things The Grandchildren Should Know," where Everett reconciles with the world at large in all its majesty and misery. The song fades gradually, and for the first time since Electro-Shock Blues, an Eels record has left a mark.