Now into the fourth decade of recording with Eels, Mark Oliver Everett, often known as 'E', has built up a reputation for consistency in creating dependable rock records. Extreme Witchcraft is the fourteenth studio album from Eels and sees them, once again, releasing a succinct rock album, albeit one which doesn't necessarily stay the course of the direction it sets out with.
In part, the latest offering is somewhat reminiscent of 2001's Souljacker, and it will come as no surprise to learn that E has again teamed up with producer John Parish to co-produce Extreme Witchcraft.
Blues-inspired garage rock dominates the early stages of the album, with 'Amateur Hour' opening the record on a positive note, providing the most captivating chorus on Extreme Witchcraft, underlining that Eels are anything but an amateur outfit. 'Good Night on Earth' continues the positive, fun feel and showcases E's lyrical talents, even giving the nod to Colin Firth's "I can't stand eels" line from Love, Actually.
There is an element of a light psychedelic rock sound to 'Strawberries and Popcorn', a song that brings memories of Blind Melon's No Rain - it is easy to imagine Shannon Hoon dancing through a field on a summer's day to the track. Despite this, there is a dark undertone to the dreamy sounding track – telling the story of a man living alone after a divorce, the benefits, such as eating strawberries and popcorn for dinner, are listed before the sudden dawning of reality with the heartfelt verse; "Nobody here to hold me so tight And keeping warm all through the night, And nobody here to listen to me, Understanding my fears and my dreams."
'Grandfather Clock Strikes Twelve' marks the turning point away from rock guitar riffs into classic funk riffs before 'Stumbling Bee' sees the record stumble and lose pace. The momentum built up during the record's first half does not continue through the second half. 'So Anyway' is a piano-centred contemplative number with lines such as "don't know what I'm gonna do if you're not here" while 'What It Isn't' sees E at his most confrontational, loudly pleading "Let's make it what it isn't".
The most emotive, personal song on the record comes in the form of 'Learning While I Lose', an uptempo, positive ditty that tries to put a positive spin on difficult moments with lines such as; "This time won't be my time, but I'll be alright, I'm learning while I lose." The album eases to a close with 'I Know You're Right' with E willingly conceding; "I know you're right, and baby I am wrong", like a lover admitting his failings, attempting to save a relationship before it's too late, serving to endear you to the protagonist.
Extreme Witchcraft, then, is a solid, fun rock record, but it seems to stick in the safe zone, struggling to continuously provide the memorable moments it, at times, offers. Even after several listens, certain tracks have not stuck, although the ones that have done are very good. While not explicitly about the situation the world has faced over the last two years, the album could be able to accredit it – with a lack of opportunities to play live shows; Extreme Witchcraft may have been a way to keep the creative juices flowing and for that, we have to be thankful for it.