Come with me, won't you, and think back to your last breakup. Remember that magical time when lying in bed and staring at the wall sounded like a good plan for the day, your menu was "whatever requires the least amount of effort to make" and you alternated between crying jags, bouts of intense self-pity and pinballing between the seven stages of grief. It felt, for however long (days, weeks, months [I hope not years]) like, figuratively speaking, The End of the World.
Thus we have arrived at the title for the newest Eels release, End Times. This is quite clearly a speedy follow-up to last year's Hombre Lobo: 12 Songs of Desire wherein we get the build-up to a relationship (contrasting with the denouement here in End Times—E cheekily leaving out the actual relationship between both albums). Rampant speculation might make both albums seem autobiographical: as he revealed in his recent autobiography, Things the Grandchildren Should Know, he was married to a woman named Anna from 2000 to 2005—though he doesn't say too terribly much about the entire affair (it's only given one chapter in his book). Given the intensely autobiographical nature of several of E's albums (Electro-shock Blues and Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, most specifically), it's tempting to read these both as autobiographical as well. This was certainly my first reaction upon listening to End Times for the first time: "God, E. Your own navel isn't that fascinating." I was initially unimpressed.
But I soldiered on, listening to it at least a dozen times more in the following weeks. It started to come together.
The album oscillates wildly. While it's mostly a stripped down and lonely affair (the most extreme example being the opening track, "In the Beginning," with its noticeable tape hiss and simple instrumentation of a single guitar and vocals that sound like they're recorded in an empty room) with sad, slow songs ("In My Younger Days," "A Line in the Dirt," "End Times," many of which are evocative of the mournful tone of E's soundtrack for the movie Levity), there are occasional bursts of energy that echo the energy of Hombre Lobo, but with that album's hope replaced by anger and frustration.
This mirrors, though, the mood swings we all have in that post-breakup period. Sorrow ("Goddamn / I miss that girl") is replaced by anger (casting the woman in question as a metaphorical suicide bomber in "Paradise Blues") seemingly at random. And there are even times when you don't feel anything, as best expressed by "High and Lonesome," which isn't even a song, per se: we hear rain and thunder, somebody dialing a phone and getting a busy signal, what sounds like a jogger running past outside, a clock tolling far in the distance, cars driving through the rain and finally a knock on the door. This is what it sounds like to lie in bed all day.
Also standing in opposition to Hombre Lobo's fixation with the desired one is the focus on the self on End Times. The isolation of the protagonist (I hesitate to call him E) of the album being a contributing factor in the breakup. Singing about his partner locking herself in the bathroom, he narrates the following conversation: "So I am knocking on the door again / I said 'Do you want to be alone?' / She says, 'No, I don't want to be alone. / But I think that you do.'" Especially effective is the spoken track, "Apple Trees," wherein we get E speaking on what seems to be an answering machine:
"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. That's how I felt."
Yet he also notes, in "Gone Man": "I take small comfort in a dying world / I'm not the only one who's feeling this pain." This is what saves the album: it's not so much about one man gazing at his navel as it is an album about navel-gazing itself, filtered through a first-person narrative living in that moment. This is the pain we all feel when we're at the centers of our own collapsing worlds.
Favorite track: "A Line in the Dirt"