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A Wolfman Sings His 'Songs Of Desire'

With his long beard, fuzzy blues-rock guitars and trio band, Eels frontman Mark Oliver Everett could remind you a little of ZZ Top. But pretty soon after diving into Hombre Lobo: 12 Songs of Desire, you realize that this music is less Tres Hombres and wolfish than it is sotto voce and melancholy.

Throughout the album, Everett — better known as E to his fans — makes good on that songs-of-desire subtitle. Again and again, whether he sings in a growl meant to be heard over loud guitars or a high-tenor croon with more gently-strummed instruments, E is a sensitive soul, unafraid to sound yearning or needy or even whiny & jealous.

Between the release of this album and his last one, E made a documentary about life with his father, the quantum physicist Hugh Everett III. It was called Parallel World, Parallel Lives, and it was a portrait of how to come to terms with a brilliant, rather distant father, while falling into that old pattern of doing something in life that's as far as possible from what your parents did — out of rebellion, or to simply establish your own identity.

The documentary, like much of E's music, was meticulous, intelligent and self-consciously chilly. It ended up proving that father and son were more alike than not — though I doubt the quantum physicist would've accidentally hopped on the Twilight/True Blood bandwagon, as E does with a song about needing fresh blood.

I like Hombre Lobo most when E is expressing his desire in its most forceful form. For me, the high point is the song "Prizefighter," which uses the metaphor of a man who'll battle for the affection of the woman he wants. It's the hombre at his lobo-iest — and "I'm a go-all-nighter/I'm a prizefighter"? I love that line.

In general, Hombre Lobo is an uneven piece of work; it sounds like a transitional album for E. He's moving into the middle period of his career, and into middle age. He can still tap into the sort of romantic insecurity and anguish that rock 'n' roll used to encourage as a music of adolescence, but we're long past that period of popular music. With senior citizens making rock as vehement as anything a teenager can muster, Mark Oliver Everett will have to continue discovering new worlds — worlds he can explore without having to transform into a wolf-man.

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Ken Tucker
Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.