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Next Stop: Happy Town 

Eels turn the frowns upside down on a recent trilogy

Mark Oliver Everett is finally finding some peace.

Twenty years into his career, the frontman for Eels (who goes by the stage name E) is putting to rest the demons that ran through two solo records and six band albums. And it took a trilogy of concept albums that explore the burden-carrying themes of desire, loss, and redemption for Everett to get to that place.

In a way, these three albums — Hombre Lobo, End Times, and Tomorrow Morning — exorcised parts of Everett's past that he had wrestled with ever since the first E record came out in 1992. Electro-Shock Blues, the second Eels album (from 1998), is the obvious starting point here. Written and recorded following his sister's suicide and his mother's diagnosis of cancer, the record is a tough listen, a deep and often brutal look into Everett's fractured psyche. It remains his best work.

The next few Eels albums, especially 2000's Daisies of the Galaxy, slowly brushed away the fading smell of death around Everett. By the time he began work on End Times, the first album recorded for the trilogy but the second released, he was a relatively happy dude, picking away at the records' themes with an open-minded and objective perspective, rather than a pained and personal one. "They were all ignited about something going on in my life," he says. Surprisingly, each song ended up on the album it was originally intended for. Or as Everett says, "Nobody hopped ship."

Everett started the trilogy in 2008. Although recorded separately, all three were completed by the time Hombre Loco, the seventh Eels album and first in four years, was released in 2009. A little more than a year later, both End Times and Tomorrow Morning were out. For Everett, the rapid release schedule isn't all that unusual. "I wanted to make up for lost time," he says before adding: "nothing ever goes as planned. Part of the fun of it is all the happy accidents along the way. It's a good feeling having three aces up your sleeve."

From the start, Everett has been a one-man alt-rock show. "Hello Cruel World," a minor modern-rock hit in 1992, was pretty much a truly solo Everett. The earliest Eels records — including the breakthrough single "Novocaine for the Soul" in 1996 — featured little input from other people. (To this day, Eels are a revolving-door band, with other musicians coming in and out as they're needed.)

Then again, Everett didn't need anyone to hold his personal baggage. Despite their ubiquitous appearance in 75 percent of the Shrek movies, Eels' songs are like scars, the result of scraping at years-old wounds. Everett's 2007 autobiography, Things the Grandchildren Should Know, scratched even deeper. You don't need to drag anyone else through this kind of hell.

But sometime around the end of the '00s Everett exhaled. He cleaned out his closet with a pair of compilations gathering his best-known songs and rarities. He grew his hobo beard to awe-inspiring lengths. And he toured, effectively putting an end to his band's first decade.

This is where the trilogy comes in. It was originally conceived as a two-part project. Hombre Lobo was added later, written and recorded as "a prequel that's about the thing that gets you into this trouble in the first place," says Everett. "But I always knew they all went together."

Fittingly, Hombre Lobo, End Times, and Tomorrow Morning can be seen as the end — or the start — of a period in Everett's life that's now, like the psych-ward blues of a decade or so ago, in his past. He doesn't mind looking back. But "I'm kinda superstitious about talking about my future," he says. "I don't want to paint myself into a corner. I often change my mind at the last minute and end up doing something else. And then it becomes this lost thing everyone asks you about for the rest of your life."

More by Michael Gallucci

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