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Eels ponder the "End Times" — from heartbreak to renewal in 40 minutes

Eels ponder the "End Times" — from heartbreak to renewal in 40 minutes

The suddenly prolific Eels released "End Times" this week, a mere seven months after the lust-themed "Hombre Lobo." Where that album found main Eel Mark Oliver Everett (or simply "E," as he refers to himself) exploring the various facets of desire, the latest record, a companion piece of sorts, is its polar opposite, a harrowing descent into the hell of heartbreak. The white-hot starkness of the album can be a bit overwhelming, as can the blinding bleakness of the lyrics.

On earlier efforts E would cloak his depressing tales in crystalline production and orchestral flourishes (such as horns, strings, glockenspiels and the like). Now, he lays bare his soul and his dissatisfaction with pretty much all of humankind amongst a skeletal, lo-fi blues rattle.  

As far as break-up albums go, "End Times" tends to be one-sided, devoid of the perspective necessary to judge the relationship accurately. Based on this set of songs, Everett comes across as a sad-sack victim of love, a man mistreated and tossed to the curb. I'm sure in reality things weren't so clear cut. But either way, if you can get past the occasional self pity, "End Times" has quite a bit to offer.

The record starts out with a sigh of nostalgia. "Everything was beautiful and free in the beginning," E sings over a gentle guitar line and organ hum on "The Beginning," looking back on the the joyous blossoming of a new love that has since withered. From there, things go downhill rather quickly, the climax of the relationship coming on "A Line in the Dirt" when E reveals the bravado and recklessness that led to his downfall: "I drew a line in the dirt and dared her to step across it – and she did." Delivered in a falsetto over a lonely piano, it marks the starting point of E's march toward the end times.

Along the way, E takes slight detours to imagine his life as an old man and a somewhat misguided attempt to point out the folly of religious fanaticism ("Paradise Blues"). But when he veers back to the cycle of heartbreak and slow healing, the journey is riveting. He tries to fight back the bitterness that's fueling his downward spiral ("I'm not yet resigned to fate, and I'm not gonna be ruled by hate / But it's strong, and it's filling up my days") and commiserates with a "Little Bird" about his loneliness and the pain of recovery. Over a gorgeous melody, backed by gently plucked guitars, E confides in the bird sitting on his porch, "Tell me this can't be how it's gonna end / Tell me my heart somehow, dear god, is gonna mend." As the song progresses, a dim light shines and a brief glimmer of stoicism rears its head: "Little bird, I guess you're right / I can't let her take me out without a fight / But right now I can't see making sense of this world / I just can't take how very much... goddamn, I miss that girl."

But lest you worry too much about E's fate, take heart in the fact that he's been here before, having dealt with much headier subjects like the deaths of his parents, sister and close friends, victims to everything from suicide and cancer to 9/11. “I’m a man in great pain over great beauty,” he concludes; “but you know, I’m pretty sure that I’ve been through worse / I’m sure I can take the hit.”

And just like that, in less than 40 minutes, E has come full circle, ready to pick up the pieces from his failed relationship and go off in search of renewal.

SAMPLE "END TIMES"

Adobe Flash Required for flash player.  "The Beginning"

Adobe Flash Required for flash player.  "A Line in the Dirt"

Adobe Flash Required for flash player.  "Little Bird"

Adobe Flash Required for flash player.  "On My Feet"

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"End Times" by Eels
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