Hey everyone. I’m busy getting ready for a Thanksgiving road trip to Oregon, so updates are going to be spotty this week. However, I’ve been listening to the new Eels record, Tomorrow Morning, a lot lately and I remembered that when I reviewed Hombre Lobo, I said I only needed to listen to Eels records to see how Mark Everett is doing. Tomorrow Morning isn’t a good album, but it sounds like Everett is a pretty happy guy at the moment. I don’t have time to break it down for you, but my musical pathologist friend, Dr. Rebecca Mellor, does (musical pathology is a fairly new field and she spends a lot of her time playing Tetris on her MacBook). So below is her expert opinion on the new Eels album and what it means for Mr. Mark “E” Everett. Enjoy! (Note: I might get one or two more updates in this week, but don’t hold your breath.)
Hello. Apparently, Mr. Chorpenning thinks I do not read his introductions. Although I am quite busy running a study that tests the ability of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme to influence the size and flavor of beefsteak tomatoes (we have not published our results yet, but I can tell you they are mostly large and delicious), I am also quite fascinated by artists whose music seems to decline in quality as their personal lives improve.
There is ample evidence that Mark Everett’s life has been filled with emotional trials and, in the early part of his career, he turned those trials into anthems of hard-won optimism (“Last Stop: This Town” is a particularly edifying example). Experts in my field (and I hope you will not think me immodest for saying that I am foremost among those experts) agree that Mr. Everett reached his musical peak with 2000’s Daisies of the Galaxy. Over the last ten years, he has wavered in quality from bad to pretty good.
On his last album, End Times, Everett sang of a cataclysmic break-up. He followed End Times only a few months later with Tomorrow Morning, an album of almost unyielding optimism. It is clear from the content of this new album that Mr. Everett has replaced the flood-bringing girl of End Times with someone new – a “Spectacular Girl,” by Everett’s own account. If I may indulge myself slightly by quoting the film Gloomy Sunday (a mildly melodramatic, but otherwise well-done fictionalization of the creation of one of the most depressing songs ever written): “apres le deluge, nous.”
Everett’s new love is placed on a pedestal almost immediately; her love, coming so soon on the heels of his last relationship, inspires him to sing that she loves him and “is smarter than you”. Elsewhere, he says that he is “the Man” which may betray delusions of grandeur, although I take it to be an attempt to convey that “on top of the world” feeling that we experience when we fall in love. Mr. Chorpenning has suggested that this is a good time to point out to Bollocks! readers that I am single. Personally, I do not see how that is relevant to our current discussion.
As a psychologist (I double-majored), I am concerned about the rapidity with which Mr. Everett has recovered from what was, according to the evidence, a profoundly difficult breakup. However, as a musical pathologist (which is the capacity in which I am currently writing – I do try to stay on task), I am more interested in the fact that Tomorrow Morning is almost uniformly bland where it is not cringe-inducingly awful. “Baby Loves Me” falls into the latter category and “Spectacular Girl” barely misses it. No serious person believes (do they?) that you have to be miserable to make brilliant music. Matt Berninger, the lyricist for the National, is a happily married father; yet, he writes mopey anthems like “Terrible Love.” And, he has written one of the best break-up songs of this young century (“Runaway”).
No, Mr. Everett’s problem is how eager he is to pour his happiness into the ears of his listeners. Sometimes, when we are striving for simple honesty, we end up with too much of the former which makes it hard for music fans to care much about the latter. Tom Waits lies about himself constantly and many of his songs are simply stories of people who have fallen by the wayside in life; but if you cannot identify the emotional honesty of his work, you need to schedule an appointment with me immediately (you can reach me by email at email@example.com). On Tomorrow Morning, Everett’s lyrics are forgettably direct – they are equivalent to a character loudly declaring, “I’m happy” instead of smiling, which would show us that they are, in fact, happy. You would not want to watch a film where the characters run around monotonously declaring their feelings but Tomorrow Morning is an all-too-appropriate soundtrack for just such a film.
You would have to be a sociopath to ask a musician to sacrifice personal happiness to make better music and I honestly hope that Mark Everett’s “Spectacular Girl” sticks around, even if it means that Eels will never be good again. Perhaps, as the relationship matures, Mr. Everett will find less declarative ways of conveying his happiness instead of verbalizing his diary over the same bland beats over and over again. This is purely speculative, but I am assured speculation (“the wilder, the better,” according to Mr. Chorpenning) is acceptable on Bollocks!, even if it is not accepted in the scientific community.
Perhaps a study is order: it seems harder than it has ever been to write decent, happy love songs (Tom Waits’s “Picture in a Frame,” which was written for his wife and songwriting partner, Kathleen Brennan, is one of the best love songs of the last twenty years. Along with “Do You Realize?” by the Flaming Lips and “I’ll Believe in Anything” by Wolf Parade) and while some artists can live happy lives and write compelling sad songs, there seems to be a general lack of artists who can turn their personal happiness into proportionally happy (and good) songs. Tomorrow Morning seems to prove fairly conclusively that Mark Everett fits all too well into this last category.
Rebecca Mellor is a musical pathologist and macramé enthusiast who will not reveal whether or not she is related, even tangentially, to a certain punk rock icon. She only uses contractions when she’s been drinking and only drinks when she’s hanging out with the Bollocks! staff. As the official musical pathologist of the Bollocks! music blog, Ms. Mellor is available to our readers to answer pressing musical health questions. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.