I’ve always struggled to provide a truly objective opinion on new Eels records. This is the case because I’ve been a fan for such a long time. As such, I’ve never been able to judge any new record on its own merits, it always get compared to the back catalog. This trend began with 2003′s “Shootennany!”: a hastily recorded stomper that contained a handful of brutal rhyming couplets that must’ve been placeholder lyrics that were never properly replaced. Eels frontman/mastermind Mark Oliver Everett a.k.a. “E” had always relied on his clever songwriting and sharp wit on previous albums and around this time he was beginning to slip. Filler tracks began to creep in on would’ve-made-a-great-single-disc-record-but-instead-its-a-double “Blinking Lights and Other Revelations” and the well intentioned but equally bloated 2009-2010 trilogy of Hombre Lobo/End Times/Tomorrow Morning. After these I’ve always approached a new Eels release with trepidation rather than anticipation.
This brings us to 2014′s “The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett”. Described as the post-breakup-album album (E’s divorce was covered thoroughly in 2010′s excellent “End Times”), “The Cautionary Tales” finds itself within E’s wheelhouse. A collection of concise, orchestrated songs about remorse, regret and some broken-heartedness for good measure. The tracks can be familiar sounding at times (E has never been afraid to mine his own back catalog) but they never seem lazy. Standout track “Parallels” draws upon the same sonic palette as 2006′s “Railroad Man” and “Kindred Spirit” reminds me of 2009′s “In My Dreams”. New ground is broken on the dirge “Dead Reckoning” which is grim sounding even by E’s standards. All things considered, this album is a step up from the previous two.
Midway through the album E sings “sometimes I miss where I’m from”. Longtime fans would likely agree. But I get the feeling ten years from now we’ll be looking back fondly on this record.