[15 January 2010]
After last year’s Hombre Lobo brought to an end the longest break between records in the Eel’s relatively long history (their full debut came in 1996), Mark Oliver Everett, more widely known as E, seems to be making up for lost time with the blink and you miss it gap of only six months before this, the latest Eels record End Times. End Times was largely self recorded on an old four-track in E’s Los Angeles basement and is an album dealing with lost love. This loneliness rings out across much of the record with lyrics like “its just me, myself and the secrets of the walls”. The subject matter is so personal that Everett won’t even be interviewed on the subject; all he will offer is that it is a true story, a point that is quite startlingly obvious at various points across the record.
Everett has used his music as therapy throughout his career, with 1998’s Electro-Shock Blues dealing with the death of his mother and father and his sister’s suicide. However, where Electro-Shock Blues seemed defiant, End Times tells the story of a man struggling to come to terms with the world that surrounds him. Of course, this is not Everett’s first break up album, 1993’s Broken Toy Shop, his last as E before forming Eels, was also the story of a man with a broken heart, but whereas that was a man in his 20s, End Times is from the perspective of someone that is a little older, tired and cynical. As E states on “In My Younger Days”, “In my younger days, this wouldn’t have been so hard.” There is often a distinct weariness to both the lyrics and their delivery from Everett’s now trademark dulcet tones.
Many of the songs are simple two-piece acoustic/vocal, piano/vocal arrangements given Everett’s postproduction treatment to achieve an Eels sensibility. There has often been a sense of longing in E’s work, even before the very personal issues dealt with on Electro-Shock Blues, and in the past Everett has proven himself, in his finer moments, as one of the most evocative lyricists of our generation. End Times is an album you need to listen to a number of times before you truly can get your head around the complexity of the content of the lyrics, not in each track individually, but across the album as a whole. Each song reflects the different emotions of a soul lost from a breaking heart, where themes seem to blend across tracks while taking on different forms in each, as if part of the erratic thoughts of a mind consumed with coming to terms with its lost love. Where E states on “Unhinged”, “I only wanted to help you”, he follows on “I Need a Mother” with “I’ve been your daddy for too long of a time”, a song that as a whole, deals with a far more cutting need E has for a motherly figure in his life, but portrays a contradiction that appears throughout the record.
E has a rare literary sharpness in his songwriting where he can cleverly fit an entire story into a single line, where a lesser songwriter may need an entire verse. This is never more obvious than in the black humor that appears in the opening on “A Line in the Dirt”: “She’s locked herself in the bathroom again, so I am pissing in the yard.” End Times begins as a reflection of the past relationship in its opening songs before being seemingly on its way to finding a resolve on the all out blues stomp of “Paradise Blues”. However, the closing tracks upend this notion with the plaintive “god damn, I miss that girl” in “Little Bird” being followed by some of the most poignant lyrics I’ve heard in “On My Feet”: “I pushed the bed against the window today, so there would only be one side, well it’s a little less lonely that way, but I’m still dying inside.”
Sure, E isn’t going to win any awards for groundbreaking new material with End Times but, with Eels’ debut Beautiful Freak, where I hold “Novocaine for the Soul” in as high a regard for its time as Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea”, you really have to feel he doesn’t have to. End Times will polarize opinion, winning as many people over as it will alienate, something E is ready for. He’s stated, “This will be some people’s favourite Eels album and some people’s least favourite, I’m prepared for that,” but with the downbeat moments of the record feeling like laying your ear right upon the raw nerve of a man broken by the loss of love, E adds another fine chapter of music you may find yourself listening to in times less fortunate than now.