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Released in January 2010, End Times is the second in a trilogy of albums released over 14 months by the band, and over the course of the three albums we're told the story of a relationship and its turbulent history. Despite the title, this has nothing to do with bizarre end-of-the-world theories and all of that 2012 stuff!
Eels is predominantly the work of one man, Mark Oliver Everett (often known as Mr E or just plain 'E'), who lives & works in California, and has a rotating cast of band members. Following a couple of solo albums, Eels the band released their first album Beautiful Freak in 1996. Their music has frequently been featured on film soundtracks over the years, for instance the first three Shrek films and Shrek the Halls each had at least one of their songs included, and Yes Man also features a number of their songs.
This album features collaborations with regulars Butch (on drums) and Koool G Murder (guitar and bass), along with horn players Wayne Bergeron, Chris Bleth and Andy Martin.
The first album, Hombre Lobo (which I've previously reviewed), focussed on the obsessive pursuit of The Girl. End Times, however, is sadly a break-up album, but also a rumination on how age and experience changes your perceptions and your ability to cope with emotional stress.
1. THE BEGINNING : the album starts with a gruff but tender acoustic reflection on how a relationship started, "beautiful and free" - the gruffness gives away the fact that things had very much changed. E's vocal is accompanied by his acoustic guitar, sounding very much like a guy sat on his porch at the end of the day, picking over the days that have passed.
2. GONE MAN : with a driving riff that reminds me of the Monkees in a minor key, this is a song about a man who's realised too late what he had now that it (or rather she) has gone.
3. IN MY YOUNGER DAYS : Back to the quiet mood, classic Eels - slow, melodic, thoughtful and reflective. No beat, just guitar-led with electronic noises off. Lyrically he remembers how he used to bounce back after a hard knock, but now he struggles with hate and loss:
"and I don't need any more misery
to teach me what I should be,
I just need you back."
4. MANSIONS OF LOS FELIZ : Strums along, mainly acoustic guitar and vocal, with a little discreet percussion. E ruminates on what goes on behind the walls of the homes in the neighbourhood, and within the walls of his own mind.
5. A LINE IN THE DIRT : Another slowish, thoughtful track, piano-led but with full band and horn section. The story continues with the deterioration of the relationship - her locking herself in the bathroom, him sleeping on the couch; eventually the song ends with him driving away into the night.
6. END TIMES : Guitar and voice again, with a little keyboard. The theme of the guy on the corner proclaiming "the end is nigh" is taken personally in the sense of the end of love.
7. APPLE TREES : A spoken word track, he feels his insignificance, identifying himself with one particular tree in an orchard of millions that he passes along the road.
8. PARADISE BLUES : This track is a bit of a relief, in that it's the first with a bit of a bounce for a little while! It has a classic driving blues rock riff, and lyrics which take the idea of the suicide bomber and seamlessly combines it with the destruction that the girlfriend is causing. Seriously.
9. NOWADAYS : Slow again, reflecting on the state of the world and resolving to keep himself to himself.
10. UNHINGED : A rough, garagey track, it sounds unproduced and spontaneous, and fits well with the title - which refers to his other half who's mind appears to have gone!
11. HIGH AND LONESOME : an instrumental, or maybe better described as a collection of sounds - door knock, rain and storm.
12. I NEED A MOTHER : A piano ballad. He's given all he can, she's taken it without giving anything back, and he needs someone to love and care for him for a change!
13. LITTLE BIRD : A typical twinkling song from E, a bright sounding song despite the melancholic subject matter. He sees the bird, and wonders how its life compares to his own, and looks for answers to his life.
14. ON MY FEET : Musically, this reminds me very much of Valentine's Day by Springsteen (from the Tunnel of Love album). He begins to be philosophical about the end of the relationship, but is still full of regrets, and misses her very much.
There is a bonus disc card digipak edition of this album, as with the other two in the trilogy. The first album came with a 'Making of' documentary, this album however comes with a CD containing four bonus tracks:
1. SOME FRIEND : Starts with the old ukelele riff, musically to start with this goes right back to E's first solo album in 1992!
2. WALKING CLOUD : Skiffly retort of someone who's just found out that his wife's been referring to him as a grumpy "Walking Cloud", the music's as pointed as the lyrics, he was obviously NOT amused!
3. $200 DOLLAR TATTOO : A slow, slightly drunken ode about a night out together that resulted in an expensive outing to the tattoo parlour.
4. THE MAN WHO DIDN'T KNOW HE'D LOST HIS MIND : A strange, and very short, piano-led song, strange lyrically at least in that the meaning is only implied. But it ends the album, and this part of the trilogy's story, well - he resolves to get away to somewhere where he can breathe, and "get out of this mess".
Not surprisingly, perhaps, this is a pretty melancholic album - very subdued and introspective, with only a couple of livelier songs to break up the solemnity. It's a good album in my opinion, but very much a slow burner. It's probably my least favourite of the three, but it still stands well in the Eels catalogue. It's a fitting 'middle' album in such a series, with the third bringing another change of mood. To be continued...
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 The Beginning
2 Gone Man
3 In My Younger Days
4 Mansions of Los Feliz
5 A Line In The Dirt
6 End Times
7 Apple Trees
8 Paradise Blues
11 High And Lonesome
12 I Need A Mother
13 Little Bird
14 On My Feet