For about two decades now, Mark Oliver Everett has worn misanthropy and iconoclasm like badges of honor, which has helped make his music appealing. It takes a keen sardonic ear to conceive of a song called “Your Lucky Day in Hell” (from Eels’ 1996 debut Beautiful Freak) and cast it as a blissed-out indie rock ditty, honey-soaked strings and all. That Everett counts Tom Waits himself as a fan is testament: Everett has had his bouts with busted love, personal tragedy and lingering self-doubt, but even his breakthrough “Novocaine for the Soul” was less about killing pain than spring-boarding beyond it.
Wonderful, Glorious caps a prolific four-year burst of activity from Everett that yielded an autobiography, a documentary about his late father (quantum physicist and “many-worlds” theorist Hugh Everett III) and a trilogy of Eels concept albums. What sets this one apart is the overarching sense of optimism and the fact that Everett’s four-piece backing band — a road-hardened touring unit since 2009 — had an equal share in the making of it. It comes through in “Stick Together” and its rambling tom-tom shuffle (“It’s very clear we make a winning team,” Everett sings, with apparent sincerity), and even in the world-weary “On the Ropes” (“I’ve got enough fight left inside this tired heart to win this one and walk out on my feet”). While Everett still relishes his sarcasm, from the oddball basement head-banger “Peach Blossom” to the dark-to-light revelations of the dancefloor-ready title track, he sounds more relaxed than ever — a glorious development indeed.