When the harrowing title and cover art for End Times were revealed, which features an illustration of an aged and white-bearded Mark Oliver Everett (also known as E), I was worried I would be writing a eulogy rather than an album review. Given E’s well-documented family history, it wouldn’t be a complete surprise; the man has been through a lot. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. Part of Eels’ appeal is that E has endured tragedy and speaks so candidly about it, and he continues this on his eighth album.
End Times arrives a mere six months after Hombre Lobo, marking the quickest turnaround between Eels albums yet. I wasn’t immediately enamored with Hombre Lobo and its frequent bouts of howling, though after returning to it months later, it has aged well. While the previous album was a character study recorded as a three-piece, End Times is instead a deeply personal affair which E largely recorded on his own. Upon hearing the simple, heart-wrenching refrain of “Goddamn, I miss that girl” from first single ‘Little Bird’, I had a feeling I was in for something special. E is at his best when he is at his most personal, and those five words signified the inspiration for these songs: End Times is E’s divorce album.
It’s a bold statement to make, but this is E’s best album since Electro-Shock Blues. While this is a man in his mid-40s grieving over his lost love, a failed relationship is something anyone can relate to. The subject was glossed over in his 2007 autobiography Things the Grandchildren Should Know, but the rage, bitterness, confusion, depression, and loneliness are all here, often within the same track. The arrangements are mostly simple, though still making use of all the instruments E has collected over the years. Given the subject matter, the majority of songs are acoustic and introspective.
Never one to dance around an issue, tracks like ‘A Line in the Dirt’ document specific incidents, in this case one in a series of fights. The title track finds our hero at a low point. You would never expect the line “Shut up cat, leave me alone” to be as moving as it is, echoing ‘Spunky’ from Beautiful Freak. Perhaps the most poignant moment on the album is on ‘Apple Trees’, which isn’t a song at all, instead, a spoken word segment featuring E recounting a memory.
“We were on this car trip and I was looking at these rows and rows of trees all along the highway. I don’t know what kind of trees, apples or something. There were just like, thousands and thousands of rows of a thousand trees each, and I picked one tree that I could see about eight trees back in this one row in the middle, just one in a billion. And that’s how I felt.”
As a parallel to ‘PS: You Rock My World’, ‘In My Younger Days’ and closing track ‘On My Feet’ retain the message of carrying on regardless of what life throws at you, which is really why E is so admirable. He has struggled through the death of his entire family and lived to tell about it; comparatively, a divorce is a bump in the road. E may be slightly older and a little more beaten down, but one gets the feeling he will pull through just fine.