Eels – The Cautionary Tales Of Mark Oliver Everett (2014)
Last year’s “Wonderful, Glorious” was, in my opinion, one of the finest albums that Eels have ever released and, given their impressive back catalogue that’s quite a bold claim, however, there is always the question of what we’re going to get next from Mark Everett. I have been a fan since “Beautiful Freak” and there have been an eclectic, diverse range of musical styles, some I have enjoyed more than others, but every album has a worthy place in an Eels fan’s collection and each is a jigsaw piece that reveals more and more of the whole picture of the man himself. Everett’s prolific nature means that the world isn’t always quite ready for the new Eels album, but this is something quite different to anything he has ever released before and for those who love Mark’s quieter, more introspective moments, this is a real treat. For those who only really like Eels when they are heavy, distorted and rocking out, perhaps give this one a miss, but in doing so, you’re ignoring an essential element of Everett’s musical personality and foolishly snubbing some candid confessionals; this album, like many of the others composed by him, is deeply personal and he writes about many aspects of his life with the frankness, honesty and insight lovers of his music and words have come to treasure.
If you think of the quieter moments on many of his albums, the softer pieces that provide respite between the heavier rock moments, well, “The Cautionary Tales Of Mark Oliver Everett” is literally an album full of those kind of songs. It’s a curiously different and rather beautiful affair. “Where I’m At” is almost an overture, an instrumental introduction to the piece of work, followed by the folky “Parallels” which, although it appears quite unspectacular, is a real grower. The first jaw-dropping moment of this release comes on “Lockdown Hurricane”, a truly beauteous piece with a bridge so gorgeous that it gives me goose-pimples. “Agatha Chang”, a pretty, but slightly mournful composition full of wistful regret, leaves so much musical space for the vocals that the importance of the lyrics to Everett are apparent. “A Swallow In The Sun” is the kind of song that makes the rest of the world disappear whilst you listen to it, a delicately shimmering track that you cannot help but hold your breath during the brief pauses; in short, it’s dazzling. “Where I’m From” is perhaps the most upbeat piece of music on the whole release, a country-tinted song that injects a bit of positive philosophising which helps the roundedness of the project. Perhaps the only track that I don’t particularly feel works that well is “Series Of Misunderstandings” which features falsetto vocal on a music box background; it’s not particularly bad, it’s just not to my particular taste.
“Kindred Spirit” is a classic Everett composition about someone who has slipped through his hands and he needs to win back, with little more than vocals over an electric guitar riff and a strummed acoustic guitar; it’s simple, but genuinely lovely. There are echoes of Tom Waits on the utterly brilliant “Gentlemen’s Choice”, which sees the protagonist examining a life that hasn’t gone the way he expected it to. It is, without doubt, one of the very best songs on this album and an instant Eels classic. “Dead Reckoning” is reminiscent of dark, gloomy rain clouds forming and proves to be as musically ominous and downcast as the lyrics, but the sparse, yet optimistic, “Answers” counters that mood with the glimpse of light through the clouds so badly needed at this point in this piece of work. “Mistakes Of My Youth” gently saunters along and, as Everett carefully reminds himself of the bad choices he made and self-coaches himself in order to avoid repeating mistakes, you almost hear the weight falling from his shoulders. Mark Oliver Everett’s “Cautionary Tales” come to an end perfectly with “Where I’m Going”, an almost hymnal, soulful chunk of gentle optimism, but listening to it certainly provides an emotional ride.
“The Cautionary Tales Of Mark Oliver Everett” is a journey through the authors mind, with doubts, regrets, self-analysis and plenty of demons to slay on the way. A typical Eels album, someone familiar with Everett’s work may joke, but given the way this album has been written, recorded and presented, it leaves the lyrical content more exposed and open to interpretation than perhaps any Eels album has done before. The musical composition itself is original, fresh and, more often than not, extremely beautiful, but it always allows the words to take centre stage and there is a beautiful harmony between every aspect of each song; this is a piece of work that feels holistic and complete. Now, it is inevitable that this album won’t please every Eels fan, but this is the work of an artist who isn’t afraid to make completely different albums, who doesn’t blink before changing horses in mid-stream. Yes, you may have to listen to this piece of work a few times before you will start to really appreciate everything on it, no, it doesn’t contain a big smash hit pop record and no, it’s not always comfortable listening, but this album is simply too good to be dismissed without giving it the time and respect it so richly deserves. The bonus disc, for those who have forked out for the deluxe edition, is well worth the extra money, with some alternative versions of tracks that are on the album, some exclusive original tracks and half a dozen excellent live cuts too. I have faith that people who understand and appreciate Everett’s work will love this album, but if you do find it boring, then be aware that you may actually be the boring one… according to Mark Everett, that is.