Monday, 21 April 2014

Album Review:Eels - The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett

(E Works)

The extraordinary and often tragic personal life of Mark Everett is one that long time fans will know well, having been told through his music, in his autobiography and the documentary Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives that reassessed the impact of his now influential physicist father Hugh Everett. His best music looked at these sad and strange events through his outsider perspective and has led to a discography of relatable and personal music. Many fans have come to his music from it's use in films and television (I first discovered the group through the show Monkey Dust for which That's Not Really Funny was used as the theme song) and it is a virtue of his songwriting that it has lent itself so well to everything from American Beauty to the Shrek films.

Mark Everett has been fairly prolific in the last few years and doesn't seem to be slowing the pace any time soon, though he has let up the easy going rock of his last album Wonderful, Glorious for a
personal record, in the vein of Electro-Shock Blues and Blinking Lights and Other Revelations. The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett is an album of low-key, pretty studio pop songs with varied instrumentation and arrangements from a live orchestra to fill out his musical stories.

Coming in after a short instrumental opening, Parallels is the kind of sweet and softly sung acoustic number you'd expect from the Eel's. A musical saw swims through the background as the song explores ideas that have been familiar throughout his music, of alienation and searching. His voice is coarse enough to hint that his penchant for fine cigars hasn't let up (he paid tribute to the Cuban cigar brand Cohiba with the cover of 2009's Hombre Lobo) but it also feels like a voice of experience that reveals past trouble he overcome.

Regret manifest itself in many ways through the album, as lost love on Agatha Chang or the more positive Mistakes of My Youth which acknowledges that you can only keep moving forward. The bouncy tempo of the shuffling country number Where I'm From picks up the pace and with it Everett's mood as he shows how good he can be at conveying a simple yet sincere sentiment as he sings “Ran far away/but I have to admit/Sometimes I miss where I'm from”. Series of Misunderstandings is another strong point in the album with a lulling glockenspiel and celesta melody that chimes under Mr E's voice backed by harmonies that give it the feel of a sixties orchestral pop number. Like many of Eel's songs it's put together simply but the gently encroaching strings makes it one of the tracks that stays with you.

Some might enjoy how the album touches on similar sounds to some of his very best work but nothing here matches the intimacy and honesty of Electro-Shock Blues. It follows on from Wonderful, Glorious' disappointingly unambitious rock in that it seems to stay in it's comfort zone. Whilst there are some highlights, most of the album feels like its retreading footsteps to an end result which is admittedly pleasant but as a whole disappointing.

Originally posted on

Monday, 14 April 2014

Album review:The Afghan Whigs – Do To The Beast

(Sub Pop)

Amongst the bands that skirted success with major labels The Afghan Whigs seemed better suited than most of their contemporaries from the nineties independent scene. The Cincinnati band had a mature sound that set them apart, incorporating R&B, soul and classic rock alongside grunge, alternate rock and early emo. The group released a run of critically acclaimed albums over ten years, including 1993's Gentleman, a dark exploration of modern masculinity, examined in depth as part of the 33 1/3 series.

Greg Dulli served as frontman, guitarist and producer for many of The Afghan Whigs records and has spent the time since the groups split in 2001 working on several albums under his Twilight Singers project as well as a collaborative album with Mark Lanegan as The Gutter Twins. Since reforming in 2012 the band played a number of live shows, including a performance with R&B singer Usher at SXSW last year (yes, really). Now the band are back to where they released many of they early records on Sub Pop with a new album Do To The Beast, the first since the soulful 1965 sixteen years ago.

Parked Outside lumbers forward with a mid-tempo, bluesy stomp letting you know that despite the time that's passed it's business as usual for the band. It makes for an assertive start reintroduction as drums pound out a 6/4 groove and walls of impressively heavy guitars engulf Dulli's familiar strained vocals. Matamoros pack a different kind of punch, with it's dark funk guitar line and a torn up string melody that rips its way into the song. A little quieter than the songs before it, first single Algiers is still one of the stand out tracks on Do To The Beast. As the electric guitars twang over an acoustic strumming like the theme to a Morricone western Greg Dulli proves his voice is as strong as it's ever been switching between a soft falsetto croon and a cool-headed lower register, singing 'I'm not too proud to roll/On the bad streets'.

The songs here concern themselves with loss, regret and a darker side to love and relationships, familiar themes to fans of Dulli's musical output.
Royal Cream is the kind of high tempo rock you've come to expect from The Afghan Whigs, hardly breaking their mould but still enjoyable and it makes things interesting when it segues perfectly into the modern hip hop beat of I Am Fire. It's still Dulli and co. so it's hardly made for tearing up a club but its makes for some creative variation amongst more straight up rock songs.

It doesn't sound like they picked up where they left off, instead it's more like the album they'd have made if they'd never split. It's touches on moments throughout the band's past discography. The riffs are bold and loud, the instrumentation tight and Dulli's lyrics are still sharp and astute. In the internet age The Afghan Whigs genre blurring songs aren't such a unique proposition which may help their music reach a bigger audience than they saw in the nineties. It may not match up to their best, like Gentleman and 1965, but in an era in which every other band is reuniting for a quick buck Do To The Beast does more than enough to justify The Afghan Whigs' return.

Originally posted on