I don't know if Mark Everett, he most commonly known simply as 'E', has any children. I certainly wouldn't wish for him to miss out on such a blessing, but at the same time one can't help hoping that he exorcises whatever demons remain so many albums into his career when that special day comes. (Of course, this opening is entirely irrelevant if he already has children. If so, why not skip to the second paragraph already? I thank you...) Imagine the bedtime stories. Imagine the lullabies. Baby's going to grow up a nervous wreck.
Eels' double-disc debut for new label Vagrant is perhaps their (for 'their' read Everett plus his collection of collaborators) finest work yet, at times eclipsing the crushing melancholy might of Electro-Shock Blues. The depression settles in for the long haul early - track three of thirty three 'Son Of A Bitch' closes out with the desperate line "Down on my knees, begging God please" - and titles like 'Checkout Blues' ("Things won't get better, until they get much worse") and 'Last Days Of My Bitter Heart' suggest that life is still far from rosy chez E.
It's entirely appropriate that Eels have found sanctuary on a label best known for its steady flow of emo-styled releases - as any follower of E's deadpan-yet-distraught delivery will testify, the man can excrete an emotion like none other. His way with the written and subsequently spoken word is magnificent, if sometimes overly morose, and his grasp of melody - keep it simple, increase the potency - remains unique within the vast indie-rock spectrum. The simple piano of 'Suicide Life' will teach the emo also-rans a thing or two about astute emotional articulation; the trick's repeated to even greater effect on 'Ugly Love', a song that's not so much a heartbreaker, but more a mind, body and soul crusher. Arriving towards the end of disc two, it combines musical introspection and a critical self-analysis with a strong and hopeful conclusion - love is real, and lasts, however it manifests itself. That 'Losing Streak' follows, packing the triumphant, fist-pumping lines of "Did you hear me!? I said my losing streak is done", is a sequencing masterstroke.
Upbeat flashes cast longer shadows across the bulk of rock-bottom feelings - 'Hey Man (Now You're Really Living)' and 'Old Shit/New Shit' are standout singles - but much of Blinking Lights... remains rooted in soulful misery and mourning. Sure, Everett's voice has much to do with the overall feeling of beautiful depression - it's a simple byproduct of previous associations with such subject matters as death and desolation - but he at least ends proceedings on a relative high note, finding a kind of inner peace and sounding almost - and whisper this - content.
Would you begrudge him a spell in the sunshine, or at least a little shelter from the rain? Thought not. These bedtime stories are not for telling to the young and impressionable, granted, but older souls seeking salvation from their own trials and tribulations of the heart and mind will find E's welcome mat forever dusted and his kettle always on. What's more, those very same souls might just uncover a real gem of an album here, and one to hold in the absolute highest regard come the end-of-year celebrations and chart compilations. It's an absolute must-buy release, basically. So go buy it. A parting shot from the man himself, and one that echoes both the repeat-play nature of Blinking Lights... and E's own dogged determination and reluctance to ever bow to considerable adversity, both in a professional and personal sense:
_"...I had some regrets,
But if I had to do it all again,
Well, it's something I'd like to do..."_
10Mike Diver's Score