by Joey Spehar
“Are we alright again?” is one of many questions asked by Mark Oliver Everett and Eels on the new album Earth To Dora – the band’s 13th since 1996. Earth To Dora follows a relationship from its beginnings to its ending and the healing that comes after it all. As the story progresses, the questions that E asks become tougher and basically impossible to posit here on the radio. It’s not a new idea. Damien Rice probably did it best in 2002 with the tragically epic O – a CD my brother threw out of his car window at least three times in the last 18 years. We like hearing these stories because, though the names and memories change, the feelings remain the same and they’re pretty universal.
Earth To Dora captures those early relationship feelings with a skill that only someone who truly understands love could convey. “Anything For Boo” teems with optimism and the excitement of meeting someone new, dorky nicknames and all. The next few songs see a man redeemed by love. They’ve been hurt before, but maybe his love has been just a bit more. That first tinge of doubt comes to the surface on the album’s title track “Earth To Dora,” a letter to a lover who is struggling with self-doubt and the past. The realization that maybe these problems are beyond fixing pops up on the contemplative “Dark and Dramatic.”
Even in the beginning of the dark times, though, there’s always a glimmer of hope. Maybe they’re wrong for each other and maybe that’s OK. Now, if you told me that Eels would release a new album in the midst of a global pandemic, I’d hope you would forgive me for having just a few preconceived notions about what that album might sound like. I assumed that when this record came out, it was written over the last few months. It seems like a perfect opportunity for E to flex his lonesome, isolated muscles and give us something to wallow in alone in our living rooms. I was wrong.
The year 2021 was supposed to be big for Eels. After the release of The Deconstruction in 2018 and its subsequent tour, the band was ready to get back into the studio and back on the road in 2021. These songs were written at the end of that tour, before everything changed. It grew from a group text among band members and their lighting director – the album’s namesake, Dora. Like those plans, the relationship in these songs continues to spiral, though, as I keep saying, the feeling of hope that everything will be OK continues to force its way in. On “The Gentle Souls,” we find a man who realizes that his past is just as much to blame for the current state of this affair.
The song “I Got Hurt” makes us feel like we’re flies on the wall of a group therapy session were the person that’s been lurking in the back by the coffee machine finally addresses the group, admitting that he has a problem. The real change, however, comes in the following song, “OK.” So dramatic is the change that Everett even goes so far as to change the sound of his voice. The point is made.
Maybe it will be okay. If nothing else, we’ve got a collection of songs that, according to E, “…can be, maybe kind of soothing or something. To hear songs dealing with things we are dreaming of getting back to.”