Friday, May 30, 2014

Mark Oliver Everett

The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett is the eleventh Eels LP in total, but it's the first to bear its creator's full name. That bearded, bespectacled man on the cover has dropped his one-letter pseudonym before - most notably for his book, Things the Grandchildren Should Know - but every album from Beautiful Freak (1996) to Wonderful, Glorious (2013) credited him as 'E', with no mention of this Everett character.

So what has changed since '96? Well, for one thing, the Eels feel far more like a solo project nowadays; Everett played almost everything on End Times and Tomorrow Morning, roping others in only occasionally for odd horn parts and harmonies. Admittedly, the most recent releases have been proper band affairs - Knuckles, The Chet, Koool G Murder and P-Boo are seemingly here to stay - but it's clear that E still runs the game. Earlier albums, on the other hand, presented the Eels as a democratic power trio, consisting of E, Butch, and Tommy Walter. They were a band, not one man and his backing group.

I'd like to argue that the songs have grown more personal since the early days, too, but Everett has never been afraid to get autobiographical. Susan's House (from Beautiful Freak) was named for his then-girlfriend, and  1998's Electro-Shock Blues - a concept album about his sister, his mother, and their respective deaths - is one of the most intensely personal records you'll ever hear:

And yet Blinking Lights and Other Revelations (2005) still felt like a...well, like a revelation. And so does this new album, to an extent - like Blinking Lights, it feels like a revealing glimpse into some never-before-seen Real Life. Of course, Blinking Lighs was a sprawling double album that seemed to span a lifetime, whereas Cautionary Tales is far more concise, cherry-picking choice moments and picking them apart, searching for isolated lessons rather than trying to map out an entire existence.

You want examples? I got your examples! Agatha Chang is all about a girl that E - excuse me, Mark Oliver Everett - used to date, and he now wishes that he hadn't broken up with her (perhaps Ms. Chang was the woman for whom I'm Going to Stop Pretending That I Din't Break Your Heart was written, too?) The moral, of course, is that you should cherish the person you're with, because chances are they're more valuable to you than you realise right now.

Where I'm From teaches a similar lesson, except this time it's a place that he's left behind, not a person. "I have to admit, sometimes I miss where I'm from"; nostalgia ensures that everything seems great when it's in the past, but perhaps we should all try harder to enjoy where we are in the present.

The central message of this record is that we should count our blessings, because it's better to be thankful for what we have now than to miss it when we don't have it any more. And that lesson is all the more weighty for the presence of E's real name on the cover - that's something that even Blinking Lights and Other Revelations didn't have. It tells us that, if we take anything from E's long and storied career, it should be the things that this album teaches us. These are the songs that he wants to be remembered by.

No comments:

Post a Comment