The eighth album from Eels, End Times, is its bleakest work yet. And that really says something. Since the band – essentially a one-man show with a rotating mix of instrumentalists rounding it out – released its universally acclaimed second album, Electro-Shock Blues, in 1998, its oeuvre has been dominated by themes of untimely death and nihilistic loneliness. But End Times is different, in two fundamental ways. First, it’s a breakup album, which is new territory for singer/songwriter/bandleader Mark Oliver Everett (aka “E”). Second, perhaps because it’s a breakup album, there’s no black humor to be found, something you could always rely on to clear up the stormy skies of prior Eels records. Still, for all of its woebegone self-loathing, End Times mostly works, continuing down the minimalist musical path Everett’s favored on his last few records, and spotlighting his painfully honest, conversational lyrics. “She locked herself in the bathroom again/So I am pissing in the yard,” he sings on the beautifully heartsick “A Line in the Dirt,” bemoaning his self-destructive nature over a plaintive piano. “In My Younger Days” finds the artist grappling with the onset of middle age, finding that it’s tougher to bounce back than it once was. The title track compares the break-up to the rapture over lone, autumnal guitar chords. All of these moments work, however melodramatic they may seem on paper, because the sincerity is palpable in Everett’s lightly graveled voice, as well as his humble arrangements. And if it wasn’t for his pair of attempts at fuzz-rock – especially the jarringly out-of-place, tossed-off-sounding “Paradise Blues” – End Times could be a sad-sack breakup album for the ages, something for miserable hipsters to turn to when they’re feeling especially mopey. If you’re not in the mood to hear a guy falling apart on tape, this album most definitely isn’t for you. But if raw, heart-on-sleeve expression is your bag, and it’s a rainy Sunday morning, you’ll find a lot to love about this relationship apocalypse tale.
This review also appeared in Artvoice. Read it again in a different milieu!
Interested in my thoughts on earlier Eels records? Too bad! Here’s my review of the band’s 2006 live album, Eels With Strings: Live At Town Hall.
And my take on the 2005 double-disc Blinking Lights and Other Revelations (#14 on my Top 100 Albums of the 2000s list).