Sound — 5
Eels, the band commanded by the everlasting frontman Mark Oliver Everett, has made sure to be ever-changing in its compositions in order to keep things interesting (and with a discography of ten albums throughout nearly 20 years, you'd have to be ever-changing in order to stay interesting). On the more recent end of their releases, Everett and the constantly-shifting lineup of the band have been on a roll lately. Their seventh, eighth and ninth albums worked as a conceptual trilogy that managed to enforce an interesting and distinguishable arc in Eels' large discography, and their latest album, "Wonderful, Glorious," provided compositions that felt fresh in regards to all of the other stuff Everett had composed with Eels. Wanting to continue with the good momentum, Eels have released their eleventh album, "The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett," a year after their previous album.
"The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett" manages to take a left turn from its predecessor by being a collection of lullaby and ballad tracks; which seems to work hand in hand with the album title sounding like the title of a collection of bedtime stories. In regards to that, the primary sound elements in this album are gentle and subdued: tracks like "Parallels" and "Agatha Chang" are acoustic guitar ballads, and "A Swallow in the Sun" and "Kindred Spirit" use soft and warm electric guitar lines; "Gentlemen's Choice" is a piano-driven ballad; and "Series of Misunderstandings" and "Answers" use delicate music-box melodies as the key instrument. String sections are used often throughout the album, and you'll even hear some wind instrument sections in songs like "Dead Reckoning," "Answers," "Where I'm At" and "Where I'm Going." The only songs that provide a different gear from the slow ballads are the peppy folk song "Where I'm From" and the more conventional indie-rock song "Mistakes of My Youth" (which is still on the soft side, nonetheless).
With the majority of songs using similar music elements in order to be mild, low-paced songs with crestfallen tones, the album ends up feeling flat and stale from front to back. The usage of strings comes off as oversaturated, and the music-box melodies in "Series of Misunderstandings" and "Answers" make the two songs feel pretty identical; however, the outro song, "Where I'm Going," that reprises and elaborates the composition of the intro song, "Where I'm At," is a commendable callback. "Where I'm From" does a good job bringing a break from the dominant somberness of the album with a dose of upbeat, and "Dead Reckoning" offers some ominous, dark tension to a primarily soft album, but the fundamental vibe of the album gets uninteresting rather quickly.
Lyrics — 5
Mark Oliver Everett has been praised as a lyricist numerous times - whether it was for his most personal display of lyricism in "Blinking Lights and Other Revelations," his conceptual lyricism that spanned through the three albums "Hombre Lobo," "End Times" and "Tomorrow Morning," or his recent display of putting down the signature downcast spirit and assuming a more positive demeanor in his lyrics in "Wonderful, Glorious," Everett has shown a lot of remarkable skill as a lyricist. It's these past accomplishments of his that makes the lyrical quality in "The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett" seem inadequate. Everett goes back to writing about topics we've heard him write about before- from lost love, like in "Agatha Chang," "Kindred Spirit" and "Series of Misunderstandings," to regrets and laments, like in "Gentlemen's Choice" and "Mistakes of My Youth" - and they come off as lyrical b-sides compared to the previous songs Eels have released that deal with the same subject matter. Even worse, the lyrics in this album suffer from a striking repetition. Much like how the music-box melodies of "Series of Misunderstandings" and "Answers" make the two songs sound very alike, the rhyme scheme in the choruses of "Agatha Chang" and "Kindred Spirit" are identical, and with both songs being specifically about losing the love of someone, it only furthers the case of the songs being lyrical carbon copies, which is a shameful display of uncreativeness. A notable exception on the album is the resonating detail he brings in the loser's lament of "Gentlemen's Choice," but no other songs on the album provide narratives as captivating.
Overall Impression — 4
If you're going to make an album of lullabies and ballads, the compositions must not only be slow, but also enthralling in order to keep the listener interested. Low-energy songs already have the disadvantage of keeping one's attention, but they're still able to - and frankly, supposed to - invoke powerful emotion. Unfortunately, only a couple of songs on the album reach this goal while the rest recycle sound elements that meagerly attempt to grab the listener. Lyrics and storytelling are also very important in lullaby and ballad-style songs, and normally, it'd be easy to assume Mark Oliver Everett would be able to deliver powerful lyrics, but his lyrics on this album prove to be ineffective. Perhaps one of these songs on this album could make it onto the soundtrack of an indie film, but with both of the sound and lyrical aspects being insufficient, "The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett" ends up being boring as a whole.