Pity poor Mark "E" Everett: beleaguered by a family background pock-marked with mad genius, suicide and cancer, he's no sooner finally come to terms with turbulent desire in last year's Hombre Loco than he's left shattered by break-up, contemplating End Times.
This, then, is E's Blood on the Tracks, his response to the devastation of a collapsed relationship; except that rather than viewed through the refracting mirrors of metaphor and allusion, he can't help projecting his own grief upon existence in general. When, in the title-track, he encounters a doom-mongering vagrant proclaiming the end of the world, in his emotional distress he can't help but see his personal sense of loss as equivalent to, or indicative of, the diminishing integrity of the world as a whole. Before long he's shunning humankind, reduced to sharing lonely solace with a "Little Bird", and cursing the insincerity and bitterness to which society is becoming increasingly reduced: "Trouble is a friend of mine I'd like to leave behind," he notes abjectly. "I'd like my friends more refined."
It all starts out so well. "Everything was beautiful and free in the beginning", he coos over the delicate guitar and organ haze of "The Beginning", recalling the blissful cocoon of new love that has since cracked apart. But the first blast of disaster comes in "Gone Man", an R&B shuffle with maraccas like some early Stones single, and just as feckless an attitude: "I never thought that I should quit/ All this stupid crazy shit/ That I do as a means of keeping things away". Before long, bravado leads him into his biggest mistake, recounted in hapless falsetto over lonely piano: "I drew a line in the dirt and dared her to step across it – and she did".
What follows is a detailed tableau of recrimination, remorse, spite and self-pity, sometimes evoked without recourse to words – as in "High and Lonesome", a bleak found-sound fragment of thunder, rain, footsteps, traffic and distant tolling bell that's like a modern-day representation of Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard". Everett retreats to the inner citadel of stoicism, despite struggling to sustain his composure – "I'm not yet resigned to fate, and I'm not gonna be ruled by hate/ But it's strong, and it's filling up my days" – and even acknowledging, in a moment of pitiable pathos, "I Need a Mother", before coming through to the other end of the long tunnel of dejection, "pretty sure I've been through worse, and I'm sure I can take the hit". As ever with Eels, it's a hard road to follow, albeit one subtly surfaced with arrangements comprised of guitar or keyboards adorned with occasional tender, lilting hints of cello, flugelhorn and ambient sounds.
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