Times was when Eels were the punchline to every joke about depressing music. Before "emo" came along, they were the flag-bearers for melancholia.
Remember that episode of Father Ted where the "cured" suicidal priest gets on the bus at the end, newly rejuvenated by his subjection to overtly cheery music, only to be greeted by Radiohead's "Exit Music". Were it an American series, you could have easily swapped that one for Eels' "Lucky Day in Hell".
Cut to thirteen years later and 'downbeat' is still the watchword for Eels. On End Times though, there is far less set-dressing to lighten the mood. Recorded on a 4-track recorder, it is an album of stripped-down restraint. Relating tales of broken love through broken equipment. It seems a perfectly appropriate choice, especially with the folkish twist given to all the songs present.
Tracks like "Little Bird" are tailor-made to play on all the strengths of the band. The sombre, yet spirited guitar melody. Mark "E" Everett's husky, commanding yet intensely fragile performance which could grip you over the top of a 220 Hz Sine wave. After something of a step back from the unabashed introspection last time around on Hombre Lobo, the incredibly personal writings have returned. Chronicling the breakdown (allegedly) of his four-year marriage to Natasha Kovaleva, it is an album forged by grief: observant, honest, compelling and heart-rending grief. On "Little Bird", he sings "Little bird / Hoppin' on my porch / I know it sounds kinda sad / But what's it all for? / Right now you're the only friend I have in the world / And I just can't take out very much / Goddamn I miss that girl".
If that doesn't satiate you appetite for emotional pain, try this: "In my younger days / I would've just chalked it up / As part of my ongoing education / But I've had enough / Been through some stuff / And I don't need any more misery / To teach me what I should be / I just need you back" taken from "In My Younger Days". While not overflowing in flowery prose or drenched in adjectives, Everett still has a knack for stimulating the visual cortex in his listeners. He finds a way to engage his listeners just as effectively than as if they were watching his home-movies sat alongside him.
Then we have our personal favourite line: "She locked herself in the bathroom again / So I am pissing in the yard / I have to laugh when I think how far it's gone / But things aren't funny any more" from "A Line in the Dirt".
So why so much time spent surveying the lyrics on display? Simply because this is the heart of the piece. Some albums thrive on connecting the dots, each band member contributing something towards a complex whole which comes together before your very ears. With Eels though, the compositional skills are faultless, but they're not what's on display here. It's like entering the Louvre and admiring the frames. They may be the best frames in the business, but laying open before you is a man's very soul. No amount of skill and craftsmanship can detract from that.
Vagrant Records have kindly allowed us to offer you three songs from the End Times album for your free-of-charge downloading consumption. These are presented below.
MP3: Eels - 'In My Younger Days'
MP3: Eels - 'A Line in the Dirt'
MP3: Eels - 'Little Bird'