The perennial indie-rock survivor finally opens up on his 11th album
E’s got some front. The last time I caught Eels live they were playing Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well’ at V Festival dressed as homeless hippies, and now he expects people to swallow a mournful acoustic album about existential misery and girls, with flutes and cornets on. But that’s the self-effacing charm of Mark Oliver Everett; his is the clownish tragedy of a Pierrot or a Tony Hancock, a downbeat wit with a dark side. ‘The Cautionary Tales…’ and its archaic folk ballads about distant hometowns (‘Where I’m From’), abusive families (the haunting ‘Series Of Misunderstandings’) and ‘Agatha Chang’ (whom E ”shoulda stayed with…”) is his ‘Everyday Robots’; stripped back, raw and deeply personal. Bereft of blues bombast, electronic trickery or bothersome concepts, when E’s not coming on like Red House Painters he’s getting seriously classical; the likes of ‘Gentlemen’s Choice’ and ‘Dead Reckoning’ are chamber orchestra sweeps with Barbican ambitions, redolent of the lonely Broadway whiskey room and medieval battleground respectively.