It’s been four years since the last Eels album, The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett, was released. A lot has happened since then – a lot of things that one would think would rile Mark Everett and get him all hot under the collar. So why is The Deconstruction so laid back?
We’re used to Eels records being a little feisty. A little abrasive. This record barely makes it out of mid-tempo. A record doesn’t have to sound like Fugazi to express an emotion, but this one seems sedated on a number of levels. Novocaine for the soul? The title track starts promisingly – fingerpicked guitar, Bernard Herrmann strings and what sounds like a theremin, but probably isn’t, usher in a typically understated vocal – “The deconstruction has begun. Time for me to fall apart.” Sadly, the song doesn’t really go anywhere interesting after the first 20 seconds. Curiously, the music seems at odds with the lyrics. While E sings, “I’ll break apart”, the music jogs along like a 1990’s Massive Attack tune. Not even an “In the Air Tonight” style drum break could wake it up.”Today Is the Day” and “Bone Dry”, with its lovely, muted bass sound and some Sinatra-esque “shooby dooby doos” try to up the energy level, but they don’t quite pull it off. The former might be a summertime hit, but not a very big one.
There’s a strange sense of resignation which permeates this record. In “Premonition” E sings “I had a premonition, It’s all gonna be fine, You can kill or be killed, But the sun’s gonna shine” but he doesn’t sound like he really means it. In “The Epiphany” we get the very un-Eels line “I just want to go back, To that simpler time.” There’s no fight left in him, it seems. And the fight was what gave the band an edge. Fortunately, along comes “Sweet Scorched Earth” to break the torpor. It’s a lovely, simple love song, with a genuinely touching lyric and on this tune, the understated treatment really works. It’s a little bit Disney but in a good way. Imagine that. “Be Hurt” has a lovely, almost Al Green groove and not even some slightly weird samples can derail it. Understated keyboards and a Steve Cropper guitar part lift the tune head and shoulders above the rest of the record.
“You Are the Shining Light” is worthy of a mention. It starts like a 1960s Motown pastiche, and you can almost see crowds of mini-skirted revelers hully-gullying themselves into a frenzy… and then you start listening to the lyrics – “Come on baby now don’t quit the show, I know you love a good fight” – in other words, sort yourself out and get your mojo back. Maybe this is Everett’s inner voice fighting to the surface. If only that voice had been louder.
The Deconstruction isn’t a bad album. You’ll play it in the car and time and miles will pass, but you won’t remember what you heard. One gets the feeling that this music wasn’t raging inside Everett, desperate to get out. These songs did not consume him, forcing him into the recording studio. It’s almost as if he looked at the calendar, saw it had been four years since the last record and thought it was something he was duty bound to do. It’s an oddly toothless record. The on-hold music for purgatory. The cool down music at the end of a not-too-strenuous workout. Maybe Everett was trying to make a 2018 version of Music for Airports or maybe it just happened accidentally. It starts. Some stuff happens. Some of it is good. Slightly more of it isn’t. Then it stops. We expect more than that from an Eels record.