You might think that the songwriter Mark Oliver Everett - or E - had well and truly cornered the market for gloom with Eels' 1998 release, Electro Shock Blues, a reflection on his sister's suicide and his mother's terminal lung cancer. But somehow, more than a decade later, End Times has topped it. The album is Everett's self-described "divorce album", written and recorded almost entirely in the basement of his Los Angeles home after the break-up of his marriage.
With artwork showing the singer with sunken eyes, hidden behind a long white mane, and the line "crazy guy with a matted beard, standing on the corner" in the title track, Everett seems to have hit bottom. But, as is often the case with Eels, for every tear there is a smile and even the album's most devastating moments are not without tiny glimmers of hope. The opener, The Beginning, lays the groundwork for the break-up, quietly establishing that "everything was beautiful and free, in the beginning". But by the time the second track, Gone Man, arrives, things have changed for the happy couple, as the line "she used to love me but it's over now" flatly reveals. Despite the song's tragic narrative, it's one of the album's most upbeat numbers, sitting somewhere between early Beatles and Creedence Clearwater Revival.
But with the next track, In my Younger Days - in which E decides there is no silver lining to be found in his failed marriage and he has already learnt everything he can about loss and pain - melancholy has returned in earnest. More often than not, it isn't the lyrics but the music that offers the album's brighter moments. E's simple yet beautiful guitar strumming, backed up by the Eels' trademark winning keyboard, should be enough to lift anyone's heart, no matter what the tragedy. Everett does manage to muster a few genuinely humorous bits of prose too. In A Line in the Dirt, the singer admits to using his yard as a toilet, because his wife has "locked herself in the bathroom, again".
Despite containing some of the most moving songs of his career, End Times is unlikely to go down as a classic Eels album. Like many of his records released over the past decade, E seems to have given up on (or forgotten about) including any pop tunes. While Electro Shock Blues shared similarly devastating themes to this album, the inclusion of songs such as Cancer for the Cure and Last Stop: This Town gave the record not just a broader appeal but a greater complexity. Although Eels' loyal band of followers are unlikely to be disappointed by the omission of big singles from End Times, anyone else might feel slightly divorced from the record.