Describing the thesis of The Deconstruction, Eels’ twelfth record and first in four years, Mark Oliver Everett retains a phrase commonplace in conversations happening globally: “The world is going nuts.” That is not to say, however, that his outlook for the future is bleak. If anything, he is hopeful: “If you look for it, there is still great beauty to be found. Sometimes you don’t even have to look for it. Other times you have to try to make it yourself. And then there are times you have to tear something apart to find something beautiful inside.”
There are plenty of beautiful moments to be found on this new album. In the arrangements on tracks like ‘Bonr Dry’ a flutter of synths mimic the whirling sparkle of Tinkerbell’s wand, on ‘Sweet Scorched Earth’ strings cascade softly like leaves losing grip on a golden autumn evening. Elsewhere, Everett’s words are packed with sentimentality and proffer some semblance of hope: “I had a premonition, it’s all going to be fine”. The resonance of the record as a whole, however, wanes and the magic fades the further we delve.
The Deconstruction is a subdued dissection of the 54-year-old’s relationships along with donations of clichéd sentiments along the way: “Look here, you’re more than your mistakes”. With songs titles like ‘The Epiphany’, ‘Premonition’ and ‘You Are A Shining Light’ mixed in with the less affirming ‘The Quandary’, ‘Be Hurt’ and ‘The Unanswerable’, Everett demonstrates his versatile vernacular as he looks back longingly on his halcyon days whilst finding fulfilment in the present moment. Unfortunately, his language on these songs are often tedious and trite – “A pure heart needs protection / sweet love and affection”. They lack the candidness that made Electro-Shock Blues so visceral and the vivid imagery that brings the listener on a city-break escape on Daisies of the Galaxy. The absence of dry humour is felt, and the record becomes a struggle to adhere to.
The more enjoyable moments are the interspersed instrumentals ‘The Quandary’, ‘Coming Back’ and ‘The Unanswerable’, the latter being a continuation of ‘The Quandary’ containing one line of “la la la la” and adding a brief spoken element. There’s a celestial quality tying these arrangements together, injecting a much needed wistful allure to hold the listener’s attention. These interludes tend to signify a shift in tone on the record, preparing the ear to slow down and ease into a very mundane and mellow mid-section. The cinematic string arrangements on opener and title track ‘The Deconstruction’ could have easily neighboured U2’s ‘Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me’ on the 1995 Batman Forever soundtrack. The bombast trickles into quick and commanding percussive patterns which give a false indication of how this album will sound as a whole. A sombre lull overtakes from ‘Premonition’ with subdued guitar and vulnerable register to Everett’s gravelly vocals, which persists until the we enter the final stage of the album, where the sweetness of ‘Archie Goodnight’ reclaims a spontaneous air in a candid few piano chords.
Sonically, Eels recall a myriad of styles synonymous to certain albums from their canon. ‘Bone Dry’ includes yelps heard previously on ‘Fresh Blood’ from Hombre Lobo and in the opening sequence of Andrew Jarecki’s docu-series The Jinx. Continuing in picking out sounds akin to previous songs that featured on mainstream projects, ‘Today Is The Day’ heralds Eels former working relationship with DreamWorks (their old label) which saw the band featured on the Shrek soundtrack. The song possess a cringe-inducing late 90s uptempo melody of bumbling bass and thudding guitar-drum rhythms, it’s one of many points on the record that is easy to skip after repeated listens.
On the whole, it’s a struggle to stick with The Deconstruction from start to finish. It is a shame because there are some gorgeous arrangements which are obscured by the lacklustre lyrics and a general feeling of fatigue in Everett’s delivery. Perhaps musically there is little left for him to expand upon within the Eels model. It seems fitting then, that nestled in the record there is a line possibly preempting a future shift; “The reconstruction will begin only when there’s nothing left”. Zara Hedderman