The Break Down

By Tom MacIntosh

For over 20 years Mark Oliver Everett, or simply ‘Ehas been fronting his California band The EELS, and has produced 11 albums with several different players, including contributions from Tom Waits, John Sebastian, Peter Buck and T-Bone Burnett, to mention a few, but this new 12th release in April 2018 has a lineup comprising: on guitars, John Parish, Jeff ‘The ChetLyster, and Mike ‘P-BooSawitzke, drummer Derek ‘KnucklesBrown, bassman Koool G Murder (Kelly Logsdon), and of course E on guitar and lead vocals. E explains the traffic flow of other artists over the years, “I can’t fire myself, other faces come and go, mine’s always here”. He has been the main force behind the lyrics for 2 decades.

Unlike many of their former works, the material here deals with compassion and kindness, a departure from the 1998 album Electro-Shock Blues, which dealt with the suffering he faced after the suicide of his sister and then his mother died of cancer. He points out “I try to reflect life and the experiences of others. All of life’s shades and colors. It’s not always pleasant, but in this case I was trying to get to a more pleasant place”.

The album opens with the title song Deconstruction, an orchestral pop song with psychedelic overtones that starts off on acoustic guitar then instantly joined by strings/winds courtesy of the Deconstruction Orchestra and Choir, making it a dreamy number initially, but then the rhythm section joins in with a thumping beat that moves the song along nicely. The pleasant melody is juxtaposed by the foreboding opening line, “The deconstruction has begun, time for me to fall apart / The reconstruction will begin only when there’s nothing left.Perhaps referring to his near burn-out after touring for years and personal troubles, then finding his way back. Or what Paste Magazine interprets as the song’s meaning, “The album’s cover art depicts a match lighting an ornate flame over the band’s logo. What follows, then, is the reconstruction.Track 2 Bone Dry is an even darker tale of loss “Bone dry you drank all the blood / my heart is bone dry…over a walking bassline and psychedelic tremolo offered most likely by E’s ‘56 Danelectro Pro, a model he’s been using since 2009. The song gets weirdly Sinatra-esque when, after the bloody lyrics, E sings “sho-be-do-be-doand “sha-la-la-la, yet it is a clean, simple rock number with a raw edgy feel. He brings out an acoustic for The Quandary, a sweet simple ballad backed by the celestial choir. The acoustic selection is likely from his collection, either a Taylor, or a Gibson L-00.

The album houses 15 songs which go from danceable rock tunes like Today’s the Day, an optimistic take on renewal which includes a punchy guitar rocking to clapping hands and a flute overtop, - to sweet melodic ballads like Premonition, where he says “Everything will be fine”, (staying optimistic) and Archie Goodnight, a beautiful ballad on piano dedicated to his son. Everett, being the multi-instrumentalist, textures the arrangements with a harpsichord or theremin (as in the title track for instance), and fuzz guitar riffs on the 60s teeny-bopper number You Are the Shining Light, along the lines of the B-52s, “Come on baby now don’t quit the show, I know you love a good fight”, alluding to getting your mojo back after you’ve been knocked down, the album’s sub-plot.

The band itself is a remarkable ensemble of talented musicians besides E, who also played keyboards and drums, The Chet was handy not just with his black Gretsch G6128T Duo Jet, (one of his chosen ‘friends’), but also played mandolin, pedal steel, musical saw, and drums. Parish was an accomplished songwriter, lead guitarist, and composer/producer, having worked with Tracy Chapman, Giant Sand and P.J. Harvey’s band, to name a few.

This album has just one minor flaw in this writer’s opinion, it’s too long with 15 songs, a bit too much ’filler fluff’. However if you’re a die-hard EELS fan, this won’t bother you at all, the peaks and valleys are reassuringly EELS to perfection. And if love songs warm your heart, There I Said It and Sweet Scorched Earth are emotional highlights to a damn good record that was pieced together over 4 years, and according to E, it just fell into place, out of deconstruction to reconstruction; and he got exactly what he wanted.