A downbeat but beautiful breakup album, Eels
’ End Times
could be viewed as the mirror image of the band’s last record, 2009’s Hombre Lobo
, which was a concept album about a fictional character’s vain attempt to woo the girl of his dreams. But where Hombre Lobo
was a more sonically varied effort that hid its anguish behind a pretend narrator, End Times
is stripped-down and direct, its songs based on frontman E’s own failed relationship with an unnamed lover. Eels are always at their best when they’re at their bleakest, so it’s hardly a surprise to report that End Times
is one of the group’s strongest efforts.
Raw and Personal Songs
In a press release
before putting out the album, E (real name Mark Oliver Everett) said that he wouldn’t do interviews in connection to End Times
or discuss “what relationship these songs are specifically about.” Though that may disappoint fans who want more information about the heartbreak chronicled in End Times
, the songs themselves are so raw and vulnerable that our lack of real-life details is almost beside the point – to evoke an old cliché, these songs speak for themselves. Working mostly with spare arrangements, highlighted by a guitar or piano, E has produced the gentlest record of his 15-year career. Though thematically the despair of End Times
may recall 1998’s Electro-Shock Blues
– the album that detailed the deaths of his mother, father and sister – this new record lacks the experimental panache and violent mood swings that marked Blues
. In that same press release, E predicted that End Times
would be some fans’ least-favorite Eels record while it would be others’ favorite, and you can see what he means: Because End Times
is all of a piece, you’ll either accept it on its terms or reject it outright.
A Look at a Failed Relationship From All Sides
Lyrically, the songs attack the failed relationship from different angles. The opening cut “The Beginning,” which borrows its lilting acoustic guitar melody from the Beatles
’ “Julia,” takes us back in time when the unnamed woman is still in E’s life and all is well. But soon it becomes clear that E is narrating the events from the present, looking back on them with great sadness. Throughout End Times
, he continues to juggle the timeline: On “A Line in the Dirt,” he’s in the midst of a rough patch with his girl, and then with the next song, “End Times,” he’s walking around in the present, drawing parallels between the doomsayers around him and the inner turmoil he feels. Structurally, this is a brilliant gambit, illustrating how when you’re in the midst of heartache you can’t help but sift through the memories to find clues of what went wrong. Even though musically the songs are uncluttered, emotionally they’re messy, which gives the album a tension that makes it all the more compelling.
Less Humor, More Sadness
Breakup albums can be risky since their subject matter can lead to mawkishly melodramatic songs, leading the listener to wish that the singer would just shut up and get over the person. And although E doesn’t entirely lick the problem, End Times does a superb job of both making his heartache universal and engagingly dramatizing the specifics of his situation. The album’s title (and title track) suggest that when you’re blue it really does feel like the whole world’s going to end, but at the same time E’s pretty, delicate songs don’t milk the misery until it feels out of proportion to the actual emotions. Some may miss E’s streak of caustic humor that usually pervades his tunes, but End Times’ plaintive honesty is striking in its own way. Usually, an Eels album is a mixture of melancholy and sarcasm, but on End Times he seems to be opening up in a way he really hasn’t before. The unvarnished immediacy and sincerity of this album may throw some Eels’ fans for a loop, but the record’s rewards are more than worth it.
'End Times' – Best Tracks: