Blinking Lights and Other Revelations

(Vagrant; 2005)

By Dom Sinacola | 6 April 2005

Look at the size of this thing! E, you industrious little Rivers, you!

Admittedly, Mark Oliver Everett is not necessarily “little” and the condescension aimed at him in the previous line is more applicable to a three-year-old (or Rivers Cuomo) than a man twenty years my senior or the mastermind behind 1998’s arrestingly simple Electro-Shock Blues and 2001’s bi-polar Souljacker. Why the cutesiness, the tender doe-eyed regard for this recent culmination of an almost-fifteen-year career? Because E waxes simplicity, boderlining motivation in simplicity’s sake, and his smooth and catchy pop nugs dwarf both songwriter/performer and audience.

Not that his work sounds exceptionally huge--although Souljacker thrived on sharp, tongue-wagging volume dynamics--jus’at E sounds exceptionally small. And through 33 songs, 90 minutes, and 2005’s most prolific persistence of the word “shit,” Blinking Lights is everything a new Eels release would make sense being: infectious, dripping vocal melodies surrounded by mostly nimble acoustic guitar or piano, sometimes sheer electronic bombast; E’s usually hushed and scruffy timbre; and confessional lyrics often overtly personal, touching and terrible (yes, yes, yes, “everything” is “shit”). This two disc opus succeeds in continuing the iconoclasm of America’s favorite “son of the man who invented the concept of parallel universes.”

“Suicide Life,” “Checkout Blues,” “In the Yard, Behind the Church,” “Understanding Salesmen,” “Ugly Love,” “The Stars Shine in the Sky Tonight,” “Whatever Happened to Soy Bomb,” “If You See Natalie," “Dust of Ages,” “Blinking Lights (For Me)." Let the girth of this list settle for a second. Alright. Ready? These nine songs are unbelievably similar. Alright, believably, as E’s been down this road, chewed on this recipe; brushed beats, cloned strings, an occasional flute, dull organs/acoustic guitar, and an intimate, bearded E make for pleasant, rainy day fodder, but not much more. On top of that, a generous portion of this two disc set is spent in instrumental interludes, copping the same instruments as the above songs, and this volume of barely-two-minuters runs together ever so easily (although, “Marie Floating Over the Backyard” uses a nice lilting vocal).

Of course there are gems, and even the multi-gangers above never lose the sense of E’s impeccable pop taste. “The Other Shoe” grows into a fibrous shuffle, like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly when the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly are just looking at each other and Doom is subtle. “Son of a Bitch” swills the spirits from sullen saxophones and “Going Fetal” swills teenage angst under the comparatively geriatric hollering of Tom Waits (big fan of E). “To Lick Your Boots” woo-oohs as if E is attempting to temper his glossolalia, and a Dobro helps. “I’m Going to Stop Pretending That I Didn’t Break Your Heart” would be refreshing if the listless regret in E’s voice wasn’t so apparent throughout the whole album. A Dobro helps.

So, by now, E’s insistence on expressing the pain of an, admittedly, horrible series of events is what has given him a sort of iconoclastic status. But from album to album, the method of expressing this pain is tending towards a more uniform wave of incredible little pop songs, and I can’t help but just want more out of Everett. No doubt he’s got the skills to pay more than his own bills, but the harrowing track list of Electro-Shock just wears too thin here. I don’t feel sympathetic. I feel tired. And E continues to shrink inside his world.