Eels - The Deconstruction
A voice you either love or loathe, productions that range from stuffed and jubilant to soft and solitary; lyrics that typically concern loneliness, devastation, and unrequited relationships, as well as courage, optimism, and gratitude. Mark Oliver Everett has no filter, a bucket of insecurities has never been that cool, and it’s perfectly fine. That’s the message Everett and his band Eels have been delivering since 1996’s alt-rock singularity Beautiful Freak, and it hasn’t deviated much since.
Everett’s unwavering devotion to his signature style leaves a lot of room for debate: is he too cautious, or abundantly creative with a single form? Is he genuine and self-actualized, or scared of change? The answer is one glowing term: idiosyncratic. In a musical landscape of trend-hopping and appropriation, it’s heartening to know someone still flies the flag of unabashed originality.
Everett’s newest release, The Deconstruction, arrives after a four-year hiatus that included marriage, divorce, and the birth of a son. The realization of a neglected personal life drove him to dive head first into those tempestuous waters, and he emerged alone again, with the knowledge that you can’t advance a relationship like a music career. He also returned with a plundered chest of mostly self-recorded songs and sequenced them to form this album.
“Right now it’s going to start, I break apart”
This is a concept album, loosely. Most Eels releases are, and credit should be given to the subtle cohesion Everett always seems to achieve across a set of seemingly unrelated tracks. The story is this: you look at your new child, and through his innocence see all the defenses you’ve erected to survive. The walls become suffocating and you decide to tear them down, but how? And more importantly, what’s left when you do? Everett attempts to answer those questions, while taking detours to profess love for his former wife, compare marriage to the apocalypse, and sing his son a lullaby.
The frankness of his thoughts are on full display (as a rule Everett tends to forgo heavy metaphor) and lyrically he’s in top form, although fans will note a sense of déjà vu that can be off-putting. When he’s attacking a new concept, such as “Sweet Scorched Earth”, his poetics are revelatory. However, other ideas like “You Are The Shining Light” or “Today Is The Day” feel worn thin, appearing in a dozen other forms throughout the Eels discography. To compound this problem, Everett’s songwriting is his own to a fault, leaving the impression of Andy Warhol abusing the images of Elvis or a Campbell’s Soup can.
At its core, however, The Deconstruction contains what pop art never did, a soul. This inherent beauty launched Everett’s career: a sincere attempt to help those who are struggling. Read his well-publicized family history and you’ll understand the motivations of a man who’s climbed out of rock bottom with a rope to throw others. This soul is manifest in the night light of “Premonition”. This soul is pure empathy in “Be Hurt”. The closer “In Our Cathedral” is a home for the lost and weary, and a perfect analogy for Everett’s place in music. As for this album’s place in the Eels catalog, somewhere towards the bottom: it suffers from too little invention, is mostly devoid of great melodies; although it’s most heartfelt moments are affecting.