That old saying regarding the best-laid plans of mice and men was never more relevant than with Eels’s seventh studio album Hombre Lobo: 12 Songs of Desire. Purportedly a concept-driven work about “dreadful, intense want,” at least according to frontman Mark Everett, Hombre Lobo is unadorned in ways that are often predictable rather than spectacular. As this drowsy album limps and trips from track to track, it’s difficult to suppress the nagging suspicion that Everett is simply phoning it in, no matter what good intentions lay behind the boredom.
Case in point: Everett’s trademark drawl, once appropriately dusty and world-weary, now seems but a desperate, mismatched shell for the uptempo rock stylings that Hombre Lobo dishes. Gone are the wise-if-snarky euphemisms, replaced instead with random and ill-placed vocal outbursts. Likewise, when the band tries its hand at short, punchy bravado, the brevity and charm is undercut by a notable lack of spine. The album is funereal when it should be celebratory, flinging soggy music up at the proverbial wall and hoping something will stick. Few songs do. Though the sweet, simple “The Longing” trickles with a familiar bitter charm that was once Eels’s winning trademark, the remaining offerings are comparable to a boxful of barebone castoffs from some unreleased Peter, Bjorn and John album.
In the end, the musical heart of Hombre Lobo is neither intriguing nor well developed, its songs lingering like poorly drawn thought balloons without conception or purpose. And despite Everett’s designs of a driven, thematic album, the very act of musical expression seems a taxing, undesirable burden for the band. Though doubtful it was crafted for such a purpose, Eels’s latest is simply not much beyond a forgettable earful for a lazy Sunday listen.