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.

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