Eels offer up their most optimistic record to date, but it hasn't all been doom and gloom before now.
Tomorrow Morning immediately sets itself apart as one of the Eels' sunnier records, but that status will probably come at the expense of the rest of the band's catalog being characterized as dark and brooding.
Granted, the music of Mark Oliver Everett (aka E) has chronicled some truly dark patches of his life, and his songs have often reflected that fact. But he's also a songwriter, to these ears at least, who's also sought the beauty in life. Even as far back as 1996's Beautiful Freak, a song like "Susan's House" found him stumbling shellshocked through a cold world, but it also found him knowing where to go for relief. Electro-Shock Blues (1998) found him dealing with the deaths of both his sister and mother in songs like "Dead of Winter", which don't flinch when it comes to setting a devastating scene:
So I know you're going pretty soon
Radiation sore throat got your tongue
Magic markers tattoo you
And show it where to aim
And strangers break their promises
You won't feel any
You won't feel any pain.
"Dead of Winter", though, ends not with curses or anger, but with E attaining something like clarity in the crisp night air. Things are unbelievably bad, but life will go on, and the darkness won't win:
Thought that I'd forget all about the past
But it doesn't let me run too fast
And I just wanna stand outside
And know that this is right
And this is true
And I will not
Fade into the night.
So the image we get of E, at least from his songs, is that he gets pummeled and blindsided by life just like the rest of us, but that he also knows how to claw his way out of his emotional shadows and back into the light. So, yeah, Tomorrow Morning's bright and sunny and optimistic, but let's not make it sound like E woke from a decade-long gloom binge and suddenly started taking his medication.
Tomorrow Morning marks the end of a trilogy that started with the lustful beginnings of Hombre Lobo: 12 Songs of Desire and continued through the heartbroken emotional apocalypse of End Times. As its name suggests, Tomorrow Morning is an album about dusting yourself off after the turmoil, and getting started on a new phase of your life. Or as "The Morning" puts it, "It's anybody's day / It could go any way / Why wouldn't you want to make / The most of it?"
The album follows through with songs like "In Gratitude for this Magnificent Day", "Baby Loves Me", "Spectacular Girl", "This Is Where It Gets Good", "Looking Up" -- nary a second thought in the bunch -- in styles ranging from stark and simple to orchestrated and layered. "I Like the Way This is Going" is little more than E on his guitar, while "What I Have to Offer" takes that basic template and adds slight layers of sound effects underneath. "Mystery of Life" starts off with a simple backbeat and blossoms into a running "la la la" chorus blended with electronic blips. If one thing ties the sound of Tomorrow Morning's songs together, it's E's use of tape loops, found sounds, and electronic instruments.
In some ways, this isn't much different from any other Eels record. Nearly everything E has ever done sounds like it takes place in the same swirly clockwork universe. This time around, though, he studiously avoids the "organic" warmth of songs like Hombre Lobo's "Prizefighter" or "Fresh Blood" in favor of a colder, more deliberate sound. Many songs start off with a simple percussion pattern or electronic wash, only to build into something denser and more intricate. In interviews, E has stated that his goal was to work with the tension between these "cold" sounds and the emotional warmth of his lyrics.
What may be truly unique about this record, though, is that it marks one of the few instances in which the Eels take a sustained look forward, rather than obsessing over events in the past or present. Or as E sings in "Mystery of Life", "Ghosts flying all around my life / Sent a message both bold and bright / Good morning, mystery of life". The subject, or sound, of Tomorrow Morning might not be as grabby as the spirited desire of El Hombre Lobo or the relationship devastation of End Times, but it offers up its share of unassuming wonders. Besides, hope is no small thing, especially when it comes in the wake of such hardship.