Eels - End Times - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Eels - End Times

by Rich Morris Rating:7 Release Date:2010-01-19

E, or Mark Everett, hasn't had an easy life, and don't we know it: he's been exorcising his personal demons on record for 15 years now. The death of his distant, alcoholic father, a pioneering quantum physicist, was movingly chronicled in Everett's 2008 book Things the Grandchildren Should Know. His sister's suicide and his mother's diagnosis with cancer inspired 1998's Electro-Shock Blues, a masterpiece of melodic misery and pitch black humour. On End Times, the 8th album from Everett's band Eels, his divorce and incipient middle-age are the preoccupations. The result is a record which is oppressively gloomy throughout, but with some sublime, heart-breaking moments.

"Everything was beautiful and free in the beginning," Everett croons on wistful opener 'In the Beginning'. That things didn't stay that way becomes quickly apparent: "She used to love me but it's over now" he admits on 'Gone Man'. 'In My Younger Days' finds him linking his loneliness with advancing age, in typically pessimistic fashion ("It's not over yet I know/But it feels not so far away"), while "I Need a Mother" is a short and plaintive cry of pain. It's not easy to listen to a man bare his soul - and you can tell that Everett means every word.

Laden with such heavy lyrical weight, and with most of the songs deliberately slow and quiet, the album sometimes threatens to slip into torpor, and so the odd foot-tapper is thrown in to stave this off. But, when the band rock out, the results can be dull and quite tiresome - as demonstrated on Eels' last record, the occasionally compelling but more often indifferent Hombre Lobo. 'Gone Man' shamelessly rips off the riff from 'Paperback Writer', to underwhelming effect, and 'Paradise Blues' is a hackneyed blues-rock stomp, slightly redeemed by its bitingly sarcastic lyrics. Eels have produced some great rock songs in their time - see the blisteringly unhinged 'Dog Faced Boy' or 'Rock Hard Times' from Shootenanny, widely (but unfairly) considered their weakest album - but the exuberance seems to have faded.

Shortcomings it may have, but End Times is frequently wonderful, especially when Everett's lyrics, full of bleak wit and emotional directness, are given room to breathe. 'Mansions of Los Feliz' imagines an apocalyptic world ("Well the city's on fire/You can smell the flesh") which has prompted the narrator to withdraw into his own mind, set to an incongruously lovely acoustic guitar backdrop. 'A Line in the Dirt' has Everett's wife locking "herself in the bathroom again/So I am pissing in the yard," a joltingly vivid detail. The beautiful 'Little Bird' is the best song on the album. Everett whispers: "Little bird hopping on my porch/Know it sounds kinda sad, but what's it all for?/Right now you're the only friend I have in the world…God damn, I miss that girl" - and the effect of those last six words is devastating. It's the track that comes closest to the classic Eels formula - musically simple and pretty, lyrically honest and direct - and it takes its place among the great break-up songs. The closing 'Back on My Feet' strikes a note of cautious, qualified optimism: "You know pretty sure that I've been through worse/I'm pretty sure I can take the hit." The listener has to hope that he can, all the better to return with another richly moving, though perhaps more consistent, record.

Pete Sykes

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