Eels' 1998 album "Electro-Shock Blues" is a lost gem.
Recorded after singer/songwriter Mark Everett's mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and his sister committed suicide, the disc deftly turns such weighty subject matter into a compelling concept album about survival.
While it earned acclaim at the time, "Electro-Shock Blues" has since drifted from consciousness. Those who expected Everett to turn into the next Beck, sales-wise anyway, instead found him taking all sorts of random artistic detours that may have made sense to him but weren't exactly conducive to maintaining a consistent following. (Dressing as the Unabomber and releasing an album called "Souljacker" in early 2002 didn't help matters.)
But with the new "Blinking Lights and Other Revelations," Everett - who prefers to go by the name E - is finally back on track. Even though it's a double-CD set, it's his strongest, most-focused batch of Eels songs in years. And E's promoting it with an unusual tour that matches him with a string quartet and no drummer.
"It's a concert for the grown-up in all of us," E said during a phone interview from a tour stop in Copenhagen, Denmark. "We wanted to appeal to our inner adults."
In addition to the string section, other instrumentation onstage includes a saw, pedal-steel guitar and upright bass. "There's also some nice vintage antique instruments and keyboards," E said. "A trash can and a suitcase act as drums."
The tour also gives E the chance to revisit some of his older songs: "Some of the songs from 'Souljacker,' for instance, are radically reworked. I can't stand going back and listening to the old records, but I like to play the songs and try to get them right this time."
As for "Blinking Lights and Other Revelations," it comes wrapped in vintage family photographs and reverberates with the same autobiographical tone as "Electro-Shock Blues."
"That album ended with me saying that maybe it's time to live," E said. "This is really more about the aftermath, the life lived after that."