For confessional singer-songwriters, there is a thin line between catharsis and masochism..
Eels singer Mark ‘E’ Everett has always majored in particularly brutal soul-searching, but for his 11th studio album he’s decided to up the ante even further. “If it’s not uncomfortable, it’s not real enough,” he muses, on its release. “I needed to dig a little deeper.”
Well, these excavations seem authentic enough. The Cautionary Tales Of Mark Oliver Everett is a long, dark night of the soul of an album. Its default mode is regret and despair; mordant wit underpins its signature mood of self-lacerating angst. It is a break-up record, in all but name.
In contrast to its hard-rocking predecessor, 2012’s Wonderful, Glorious, Cautionary Tales is a sombre affair. Often, Everett will merely murmur over the slightest, most glancing strum of acoustic guitar. Agatha Chang, a song about yearning for a lover whom he neglected and drove away, is as erudite and visceral as Leonard Cohen in his pomp.
Luckily, gorgeous tunes undercut these angst-ridden essays and musings on intimations of mortality. On Gentleman’s Choice, Everett is as wracked and world-weary as Tom Waits (a major Eels fan); his wasted, broken husk of a voice on Answers (“I thought I’d have some answers by now”) recalls Mark Lanegan. Current single Mistakes Of My Youth is piquantly plangent.
It takes a special talent to make such dark, downbeat music and to render it exquisitely enjoyable… and even uplifting. Luckily, Mark Oliver Everett is a special talent indeed.