Eels – The Deconstruction

As far as life-changing events go, becoming a parent takes some beating – especially when it happens late in life. For Mark Oliver Everett (known normally of course as E), it was something that he had given up on – in his 2008 autobiography, Things the Grandchildren Should Know, he noted that the title was ironic as time ticked away and the prospect of being last in the family line loomed. Yet, at the age of 54, a brief marriage resulted in the birth of a son and everything changed.

So, after the longest break in albums in Eels’ long career, the follow-up to 2014’s The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett marks a fresh new start. However, as the title suggests, first there is a need to break away from the past. It is interesting that the opening (and title) track sounds like it could have come straight from the very first Eels album Beautiful Freak. Indeed, much of the opening half of The Deconstruction does. It is almost as if the new start has sent E back to the very start. Meanwhile, ‘Bone Dry’ comes on like a Sean Connery-era Bond soundtrack as he rails at the end of a relationship. His plaintive cry of: “What will become of men like me?” is perhaps the only moment where he feels sorry for himself, for on the rest of the album it is a question of facing up to and staring down his problems.

That is never clearer than on ‘Premonition’ and ‘Rusty Pipes’. The themes of life as a misfit and death will be familiar to all long-time Eels fans, but there is a subtle change in E’s mindset these days. “It’s not the weight you carry, it’s how you carry it / We can get through anything, we can take the hit”, he sings on the former, while on the latter he touches on the ageing process. Unsurprisingly for a man in his 50s, the ticking of his clock appears to have got louder – but equally, as with all new parents, his perspective has changed. These songs seems to be performed with a shrug rather than with a groan, and ‘The Epiphany’ reveals all when he says: “I can’t go back, but I can make today a memory to last”. Concept albums may sometimes be a dirty word, but it seems a fitting description here as the second half of the album takes off into new areas.

Like that, a page is turned and we are into a new chapter. ‘Today Is The Day’ has a spring in its step as well as a glint in its eye. ‘Be Hurt’ meanwhile, sounds like late-period Beatles, complete with a gentle Harrison-esque guitar piece and a reflective drum beat. There are mixtures of fuzzy, dirty Souljacker riffs crashing into stripped back love songs and even a beautiful ode to his son Archie. Any remaining angst seems to have been nudged out of the door, and it has instead been replaced by optimism and an open invitation to join him in ‘In Our Cathedral’ – a place where all are welcome. The latter section of The Deconstruction almost fades away into a ‘happily ever after’ epilogue, posing a question of where Eels go next. Time will tell if this will form a new pattern for E, with time taken off to concentrate on actually living rather than writing and performing. It gives the impression that it may be a while before we hear from him again, and few would begrudge E the perfect ending to this chapter of his life.

Jamie MacMillan

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