EELS - Earth to Dora
“Maybe it’s time to get out of bed” sings EELS frontman Mark Oliver Everett on ‘Are We Alright Again’, the first single from Earth to Dora. Its sentiment is reflected in the sound; of a guy who has been lying on the bedroom floor, imagining a better world. He's been struggling, but now its time to pick up the guitar, to share his illusions, to spread some joy. We’ll call the guy E from now on, as he likes to be known.
The sad clown on the cover represents an artist who has been walking a tightrope between depression and euphoria for years, whose songs delve into the pitfalls of self-pity but somehow make us feel good. This time round he’s got the balance just right. The beat-down songwriter gives us a flashback to the verve of his more uplifting records like Daisies of the Galaxy, and offers a cure for the prevailing gloom of “these strange times”.
You may think he has finally lost the plot, or stuck in a waking nightmare, to find that he’s recently done an interview with John Lennon. Clearly in need of a friend, he resurrected the dead Beatle to talk about Earth is Dora, who was the better songwriter and life in quarantine. Maybe he’s using this to come to terms with what’s happening right now, but E’s music career has always been a kind of conversation with himself, and this album is no different.
In the interview with Lennon, he describes ‘Are We Alright Again’ as “kind of a quarantine daydream I desperately needed to have,” and the album’s brimming with these aural hallucinations and dreams of better times.
While his deadpan voice tells it how it is, his fantasies are realised in swirling guitars and Hollywood strings that make songs like the lead single, ‘Anything for Boo’ and ‘Baby Let’s Make it Real’ woozy and strangely comforting. They have the personal touch of earlier EELS albums recorded in the bedroom or basement, but with a vision stretched into widescreen with trails of floaty keys and infectious melodies.
Sometimes E can be blunt. He climbs into the mind of a paranoid lover and bypasses any attempt to mince words in ‘Are You Fucking Your Ex’. Equally to the point are his lyrics in ‘I Got Hurt’ when tackling subsequent heartbreak (“I got hurt / Oh yeah! / I got hurt / And it didn’t feel good”). They may seem throwaway on paper but the words, when fleshed out with feverish melodies, once again hit the nail on the head.
The quieter notes of ‘Who You Say You Are’, ‘Of Unsent Letters’ and ‘Dark and Dramatic’ are mournful and mildly sweet to wean you off the chemical happiness, and provide some of the best moments on the record. Again, the balance is perfect. For every groan of disillusionment, there’s a childlike allusion to nursery rhymes. For every whisper that life’s shit, there’s the resignation that that’s just how things are. The constant highs and lows - the tension between his voice and the euphoric melodies - are what makes Earth to Dora compulsively addictive and destined for eternal repeats.
It’s not going to be for everyone, but Earth to Dora recalls an era in the 90s when Beck was a loser and Badly Drawn Boy still had ideas beneath his beanie. Very little has changed sonically, but like many albums that are hitting the shelves, his battle with personal demons just resonates during current times. Lethal doses of DIY pop are delivered with E's trademark grit in the throat, giving us a bittersweet rush of good feeling. It's straightforward and addictive on the face of it, but the tension between our seclusion and aspirations during isolation is bubbling beneath the surface.