Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Eels - End Times Album Review (2010)

Blinking Lights and Other Revelations is a life’s work for Mark Everett. It is an extraordinary collection of thirty three songs inspired by a much-publicised troubled family, a tortured soul and a furtive mind. But even with the 2008 ‘best of’ collection (tagging on ‘volume I’ is a neat trick), Everett’s autobiography and film about his father’s life, there is more to come from Eels. Getting into character for the sequel to Souljacker, Hombre Lobo is the first of two albums in six months, as Everett throws aside the projects that drew him away from the daytime job of making music and continues with End Times.

Unlike many Eels albums, End Times has a spontaneity last heard on 1998’s Electro-Shock Blues. Neither album feels like it has been ‘thrown together’ but there is immediacy about the music - it is very much in the moment and firmly in the present. At times, Everett does recall the past but only to drag it forward to give it modern context - call it reminiscence, call it nostalgic therapy, he can recall without reliving and craft it into something new. And the future plays a big part as he looks at himself growing old (and more miserable - if that is possible). Mainly End Times benefits from recent events, namely a break-up. And this is Everett’s break-up album.

The Beginning opens End Times, all distant and echoing vocals, recalling the calm before the storm. Even through the uneasiness that surrounds much of Eels music these days, there is tearful hope that if things had been different, the relationship would have taken a different turn. Gone Man quickly mixes things up, a honky-tonk blues guitar-led, upbeat song. Borrowing from the Rolling Stones It’s all over now, this races through three minutes. My Younger Days sees Everett in the future, as an old man trying to work out what his actions would be if he was still in his youth: “Now I’m a statistic, but I’m not fatalistic. Not yet resigned to fate, I‘m not gonna be ruled by hate” is a wonderful line that flips the whole notion that it’s better to be an impetuous youth than a grumpy old man. Musically, space-aged electronics fill in the more acoustic approach. More great song writing with “…But I’ve had enough. Been through some stuff. I don’t need any more misery to teach me what I should be”. Then a pause before, “I just need you back”. Simple. Direct. Powerful.

Mansions of Los Feliz (in Los Angeles) is bitter-sweet Eels (both in music and lyrics) but is one of the songs on End Times that is out of place. It’s as much about alienation, agoraphobia as it is about ignorance and capitalism. A Line In The Dirt throws us right back into the present. Opening with the line “She locked herself in the bathroom again, so I am pissing in the yard”, this is brilliant and heart-breaking, with a controlled vocal from Everett, from gravel-throated verses to falsetto chorus. One of the best Eels songs, from arrangement to execution; the perfect anti-love song. Into the title track and another delicate guitar melody frames Everett’s journey home around a bleak, confusing world without love.

Apple Trees is forty seconds that revisits (briefly) the idea behind Susan’s House. But it is just an empty interlude. To bring in Paradise Blues. It’s hard to know where to start with this song. Obviously embedded in the current social and political tensions and the ‘crazy’ notion that religious extremism will bring ultimate reward, this is not so much tongue in cheek as fist in mouth. Everett screams and hollers like a madman about embracing love. Getting passed a strange vocal start, Nowadays introduced a calmer man with a stark blast of harmonica. With lines like “Trouble is a friend of mine I’d like to leave behind. I like my friends more refined” this is more great song writing and another effortless performance. Into Unhinged and another faster guitar and organ fest, this is one of the weaker songs due to being oddly tuneless, lacking imagination and too obvious. A rare moment of poor judgement.

High and Lonesome is another strange interlude; this time of rain, thunder and church bells. A knock on a door begins I Need A Mother and more self-examination, elements of confused relationships, and needing love back when you give so much. Another highlight is Little Bird, the kind of song no one else would get away with. “God damn. I miss that girl” is genuinely beautiful with equally poignant guitar-work. Way too short is the only problem. End Time closes with the brilliant On My Feet, again with Everett as an older man reflecting on the effects of what has come before. “I pushed the bed against the window today, so there’ll only be one side. Well it’s a little less lonely that way, but I’m still dying inside…”. Time after time he draws you into his heartbreak. It’s never forced, and it’s never a sad loser winging. He is saying it as it is: “When it’s time to look back on my life. Most of it won’t seem too important. The shit that matters, and what I really miss, is falling asleep with your arms around me…”.

The danger was (and still is to a point) that Eels was becoming all about Everett and his own despair. The rest of Eels might be comfortable with this but it’s getting to the stage now that bows are running out of strings. Not that the music is now one-dimensional; far from it. Everett makes exquisitely beautiful music, tackling huge world-enveloping concepts with as much ease as tiny observations and single ideas. Such is the breadth and depth of one man’s imagination, his life, and his persona. He thrives from misery and tragedy, is open and honest about his emotions, feelings and actions, choosing to shout when he needs to and quietly intimate when he doesn’t. Pain and loss has never sounded so good. End Times is another great Eels album.
- CS

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