Review Summary: E grows… his beard.
When Hombre Lobo
finally surfaced after four long years - and E actually had the nerve to name a song “The Longing” - the hair did the talking. Eels’ frizzy frontman went on about that fairytale concept he had involving his wolfish, by-night double - not all that later, it came to eager listeners that maybe he was writing out of duty to his beard - given the scale and layering of the thing (and the amount of fur it probably contained) their theory isn’t easy to write off. That album – number seven – came out a prowl through a stalker’s loneliness. Concerned with love lost, January’s End Times
is E facing the fact he might be getting old, and in much gentler terms than six months ago. E’s facial chops may not have fallen off just yet, but they’re definitely greying.
Forgive me, but with E it’s more a matter of concept than music: he hasn’t mixed up his sound anymore than he had last time he checked out of studio album world, but what really does appeal from picking at End Times
is that it could basically go into a double-package with Hombre Lobo
. We’ve got a fake double-album - a second Blinking Lights & Other Revelations
– on our hands, only wiser still.
To delve further, E’s history needs some examining. I would say I’ve seen every E album as a confession straight from his sophomore effort Electro-Shock Blues
, the first album to really note down the monologue of his life as intensified by loss and tragedy. Where we left him in 2005 however, he seemed done with autobiography, having essentially locked himself in a basement (with the occasional Tom Waits or Peter Buck sashaying in and out) and composed the most personal seventy-minute epic ever. Now, with the second of two albums united in their topic of romance, End Times
seems to render all that cleansing irrelevant, and E has new topics built in broken relationships and age – both merged casually and simply, and said as plainly as ever: “In my younger days/This wouldn’t have been so hard
Bar the documenting lyrical themes, E is fulfilling a retread of everything he has put out. It may be his most clinical yet. The ballads particularly feel like the final touches in a scheme far more longwinded; fourteen or more years in the making, the exercise has come along tenfold since their early sketches were founded over years of ‘rare’ solo records. It would be easy to say that the mandatory piano hymn “A Line In The Dirt” has existed twenty odd times already on Eels’ records were it not sounding so effortless: the drums pass by with the faintest brush upon the song, as does the modest horn section. At worst, it’s an underwhelming first listen – only sounding as boxed as it does because of how incredibly every little transition is made, as if E has finally championed his own little world of pop and confession. Pretty much everywhere else, songs sit in their varying skins - and just as seamlessly; want a retrospective taste of everything E has ever, ever done?* It’s all here, from the type-two balladry (reverberating guitars in the dark on “In My Younger Days”, or lighter still by acoustic methods on “Nowadays”) to the band’s standard slice of black comedy in the jingly “End Times”, which has our anti-hero typically bitter with finding himself upbeat.
It’s hard not to love the trick pulled with End Times
simply because there needs be neither a crowning track nor an examination of the album as a collective whole. E himself calls this album quite sharply “the after” where it’s older (but eviler) brother is “the spark that ignites all” - and to me while End Times
may not be the best telling of his talent, he has succeeded in crafting the double album that isn’t – yes, you can listen to it alone (at the very least to see just how back-of-hand E finds things), but its great secret is that it has a timeline that isn’t restricted to 2010. It's better off with 2009 by its side.
*If you dislike Eels, please do not respond ironically.