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Mini-Feature – EELS

2nd January 2021

With a discography spanning 25 years, Mark Oliver Everett’s (aka E) band EELS have explored styles and sounds, building up fans and haters alike. Some find E’s melancholy writings a bit too morbid, but in among the 13 studio albums they have released lay sparks of sheer brilliance, and some of the albums have bucked his normal moody trend and can be regarded as almost uplifting.

Eels - Novocaine for the Soul (LIve, 2018) - YouTube
Mark Oliver Everett – King of the EELS

The loss of his father while still young, his mother being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and the suicide of his sister was bound to influence Everett’s writing. E began his solo career in 1991 when he was signed to Polydor Records and released two albums. When his contract ended in 1995 he formed EELS. The name was chosen so band’s records would be close to E’s solo albums on the music shop racks.

The band were one of the first to sign to DreamWorks Records and their debut, Beautiful Freaks, achieved moderate success, garnering the BRIT award for Best International Breakthrough Act. After touring extensively for two years to build their name they released Electro-Shock Blues which was themed (unsurprisingly) around the topics of death, suicide and cancer. The song ‘Cure for Cancer’ helped establish the band when it was used on the American Beauty soundtrack.

I’ve decided to start today’s selection with a song from their third release, Daisies of the Galaxy (2000), which, in comparison to the previous albums, is quite upbeat. As Everett said “If Electro-Shock Blues was the phone call in the middle of the night that you don’t want to answer, then Daisies of the Galaxy is the hotel wake-up call to tell you that your lovely breakfast is ready”

Although the album wasn’t a commercial success, it didn’t prevent the band expanding from a 3-piece to a 6-piece for the tour of the States, Europe and (for the first time) Australia. Here’s one of my favourites from the album, ‘Grace Kelly Blues’.

EELS 2001’s Souljacker album explored a heavier rock-orientated sound, while the 2003 Shootenanny release was recorded in just ten days and explained away as being a respite from working on a major project, Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, a 33-track double album that was released in 2005. Among those who made contributions to this epic record were Tom Waits, Peter Buck (REM) and the legendary John Sebastian. The supporting tour was billed as ‘Eels with Strings’ and included a string quartet. A live album of the concert, Eels with Strings: Live at Town Hall was released on CD and DVD in 2006.

As happens with most successful bands, the first compilation of greatest hits was released in 2008 as well as a DVD collection of a whopping 50 B-sides, rarities, soundtrack singles and unreleased songs under the name Useless Trinkets which they toured around the globe. While on tour they released the live CD/DVD London Astoria – Live and in Person which included read excerpts from E’s autobiography, Things the Grandchildren Should Know, which some found self-indulgent and a little more than tedious.

Between 2009 and 2011 the EELS released a trio of albums that have been termed the ‘concept album trilogy’ and included Hombre Lobo, End Times and Tomorrow Morning. The three releases (in true E style) explore the themes of desire, loss and redemption. After having taken a break from touring, they hit the road for the first time in four years.

Few fans expected the release of the 2013 parody music video, ‘Cold Dead Hand’, with Jim Carey replacing Everett on vocals while the band plays as back-up musicians for ‘Lonesome Earle and the Clutterbusters’. The song takes a shot (excuse the pun) America’s gun-loving fraternity, specifically the former NRA spokesman Charlton Heston. Carey is a huge EELS fan and 9 of their songs were included in his movie Yes Man.

I’ve included this strange video as proof that despite his tendency for gloom, Mark Oliver Everett must have a keen sense of humour. For those wanting to skip the spoofy intro, you can skip to 1:10 to pick up the song.

The band returned to a hard rock feel for the album Wonderful Glorious and then changed tactics completely for The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett (2014), which saw a paired-down acoustic sound with tasteful orchestration. They performed the album at London’s Royal Albert Hall where it was recorded for a CD/DVD release. In 2015 their cover of Melanie De Biassio’s ‘I Feel You’ was used to promote Ridley Scott’s movie Alien: Covenant, adding yet another film credit to E’s growing list.

EELS took a back seat for four years, possibly due to Everett’s state of mind during and after his short-lived marriage and subsequent divorce. This is evident in the themes covered in the 2018 release, The Deconstruction; which explore the rebuilding of one’s life and a retrospective look at what went wrong. There is no one style to this album, and you’ll find a mix of pop, orchestral lushness, psychedelic pop/rock and even hints of indie-styled post-modern pop; a mixed bag indeed.

Mark Oliver Everett has been the sole constant in the EELS ever-changing line-up and while researching today’s mini-feature, was impressed by E’s sheer endurance through the mishaps that have befallen him during the years. This is no stranger to picking himself up from the ashes. Apart from some hectic discordant moments displayed on some albums, much of Everett’s music is emotionally revealing, at times warm and inviting, and mostly beautifully crafted.

I’m closing today’s feature with a track from the 2020 release Earth to Dora. This is the 13th studio album and sees a return to a slightly more upbeat mood. Although it is an examination of the different stages of a relationship (from those honeymoon days through to WTF happened and where is she now?), it isn’t a gloomy collection at all and could be regarded as a ‘getting over it’ album. My last track for today is ‘Baby Let’s Make It Real’.

Whatever Mark Oliver Everett has in store for us in the future, I am sure it will be yet another well-written roller-coaster of emotions. Thanks for joining me for the first mini-feature of 2021. I hope you all had as best a time as possible over the holiday season, and that this year sees an end to the madness that 2020 seemed to revel in. Catch you soon.

The Loving the Music mini-features are written and compiled by me to support Loving the Music Facebook page and group. Join the community for regular themed three-part posts that do do more than just share a song.

The Author owns no copyright on the images or videos in this article. All images and links sourced from YouTube and Google and within the public domain.

Words © Andrew Knapp 2021

Published by Loving the Music

I am a music-lover who has been fortunate enough to live through six-decades of ever-changing musical styles and genres. Loving the Music is my eclectic collection of regular music-related mini-features and whatever else tickles my musical fancy. You can also find me on the Loving the Music Facebook group and page. Happy listening - Andrew Knapp

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