“I can’t even look at it,” laments the quiet unassuming chap in spectacles sitting on the sofa. He’s staring closely at the photo on the cover of his eleventh studio offering under his ever-mutating Eels banner, and he’s pretty uncomfortable with that face staring back. “I’ve never been so exposed, put some clothes on man!”
Anyone worrying he’s ‘done a John & Yoko’ and is flaunting his fifty-year-old physique on the sleeve au naturel can rest easy though, for Mark Everett’s stripping of choice is purely metaphorical. His much discussed facial hair though has been sheared to a contained George Michael-ish stubble, which could be a clue. “I have a very baby beard,” E whispers carelessly, “When I tend to grow a long beard, shit gets a little crazy. I’m very uncomfortable with it but it seems like the only honest thing to do because the songs are very honest. I just wanted it to be as naked as possible.”
In the slippery world of the eclectic Eels ‘The Cautionary Tales Of Mark Oliver Everett’ is a defiant return to the bare-bones heart-tugging beautiful maladies of ‘Daisies Of The Galaxy’ or ‘Blinking Lights’. But far from being the sound of a middle-aged man pleasing himself alone in his basement, it’s actually the product of E’s touring band, last seen getting their rocks off on 2013’s louder and far less restrained ‘Wonderful, Glorious’.
“We actually finished a version of this album a couple of years ago,” Everett explains, “I liked it, but we ended up making ‘Wonderful Glorious’ and went on tour. When we came back it struck me how we could make it better. There wasn’t enough of me blaming myself, and I realised I really needed more of that. I needed to sacrifice my dignity a little bit.”
The result is a magnificently engaging waltz through the sloppy fumbles of love and life; indecision, regret, and the process of sticking two fingers up to the past and having a dance instead. Drenched in orchestration the album contains at least three bona-fide future Eels classics in ‘Parallels’, ‘Where I’m From’ and ‘Mistakes Of My Youth’, and ends with a jubilant burst of springtime optimism, “Can’t say I know what will happen tomorrow,“ E sings at the album’s close, “But I’ve got a good feeling about where I’m going.”
“What’s going on here is pretty dark,” Everett agrees, “We call it Uneasy Listening, because it sounds pretty Easy Listening until you start to pay attention. Then you realise Jesus, this is uncomfortable. Sinatra would never had sung a song like ‘Gentleman’s Choice’ because he would say I’M NOT A LOSER! I’m looking at all these situations and showing what worked and what didn’t work. And then I think I start to realise, the only thing I can do anything about is myself.”
Eels’ new album ‘The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett’ is out now via E Works.