Utters Mark Oliver Everett as Eels’ latest gets underway: “Everything was beautiful and free / In the beginning.” Over a threadbare backing track, he uses a few broad strokes to paint a picture of domestic bliss, his words at once tender, candid, and – this is an Eels record, after all – loaded with foreboding. What do you do when there’s nothing to do? If you’re with the one you love, Everett suggests, do whatever. After all, you’ve done the hard part already.
End Times is concerned with what comes next: what happens when it ends, when for one reason or another – or many – you lose the one you love. The question here is less how you mend a broken heart, more how you mend a heart that’s been battered, bruised and dragged around the block as many times as this one. The answers come peppered with dry wit and keen observation; the kind of pathos Everett has spent seven albums (nine, if you include early 90s works A Man Called E and Broken Toy Shop) perfecting.
Although contemplation of heartache and loss is hardly Eels covering new ground (see 1998’s wrenching Electro-Shock Blues, or 2005’s sprawling double album Blinking Lights and Other Revelations), End Times plays to Everett’s strengths, offering enough intrigue and wonder to keep happy listeners new and old.
While he’s always seemed more comfortable in the role of heart-on-sleeve troubadour than that of oddball alt-rocker, some of this disc’s most delectable surprises emerge under the guise of the latter: Gone Man is a hugely enjoyable slice of scuzzed-up garage rock, Paradise Blues pleads humanity with a suicide bomber over the simplest of blues progressions, and Unhinged is exactly that, harking back to the band’s earliest successes.
If its title and artwork weren’t enough of a clue, Everett takes this opportunity to equate his situation with “the desperate times we live in… the end of common decency.” Yet End Times is not a hopelessly gloomy record; it is as startlingly direct and melodically assured as ever, even wrestling laugh-out-loud humour from moments of despondency (“Outside my window there’s a cat in heat / Shut up cat, and leave me alone”).
“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.” At this point in the game, you’d be hard-pressed to disagree.