Eels: End Times

RIYL: Grant Lee Buffalo, Parthenon Huxley, Jonathan Rundman

Here’s a record that lives up to its title. Eels frontman Mark “E” Everett has never exactly sounded peppy, but on the band’s eighth album, End Times, he sounds like a hollowed-out husk, strumming his guitar while he patiently waits for the sweet relief of the apocalypse. And despite Everett’s well-earned rep as a fairly dour dude, he came by this set’s crappy mood the hard way – yes, friends, End Times is the latest addition to the time-honored rock & roll tradition of the divorce album. Where some divorce albums sound angry or sarcastic, E copes with his pain pretty much the way you’d guess – namely, by opening his miserable veins all over these 14 songs. The story starts, appropriately enough, with “The Beginning,” a wistful look back at what almost was; 11 tracks later, E’s curled into the fetal position, telling us “I Need a Mother.” Alternating between haunting ballads and howling psychobilly stomps, all topped off by Everett’s not-quite-tuneful vocals, Times is relatively harrowing stuff; the closest the album comes to a single is the vaguely jaunty “Mansions of Los Feliz.”

EELS New Photo

Musically, End Times might be the Eels’ sparest collection; according to the band’s press release, it was largely self-recorded, on an old four-track in Everett’s basement, and it shows. Though some arrangements tend toward the fleshed-out (“A Line in the Dirt” even includes a little brass), the overall effect is that of a solo confessional. This is wholly appropriate, given the material, but it also means that, even in the context of the Eels’ other albums, End Times is the kind of thing you really have to be in the mood to hear. Hear it one way, and it’s just morose noodling; hear it another way, and it’ll slay you. Not quite as good as Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, in other words – but depending on your taste for heartbreak, it still might end up being your favorite Eels album. (Vagrant 2010)

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