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A Very Thankful Man

 

Eels: Blinking Lights and Other Revelations

Vagrant, 2005

Rating: 4.6

 

Posted: May 4, 2005

By Laurence Station

Mark Everett's sixth Eels album sounds like his last. Spanning two discs and 33 tracks, Blinking Lights and Other Revelations is both the master thesis of Everett's musical expression (though his deadpan crotchety singing style can be a hurdle for the uninitiated listener) and an unflinchingly candid cradle-to-grave assessment of a life jointly touched by heartbreaking tragedy and transcendent joy. The psychedelic sounds (from groovy organ peels to autoharp) of Everett's birth decade, the 1960s, and trendier, electronically treated production techniques intermingle throughout. Blinking Lights is an astonishing mélange of life and sound cycles, as much about the ghosts of the past as it is an optimistic hedge toward a pensioner’s age bracket Everett clearly endeavors to appreciate.

If 1998’s Electro-Shock Blues reflected Everett confronting the immediacy of loss (his older sister, Elizabeth, committed suicide two years earlier and his mother, Nancy, whose girlhood image graces the cover of Blinking Lights, subsequently lost a battle with cancer) -- exposing a fresh wound that hadn’t been properly dressed -- Blinking Lights benefits from the perspective of years and an acute understanding that, while no one gets dealt a perfect hand in life, that doesn’t mean a person should give up trying to make the best of what he’s got.

There’s also the specter of Everett's father, noted quantum physicist Hugh Everett III, who died of a heart attack in 1982 (and was found by the teenaged Everett), hanging over the album, stirring up painful early memories on “Son of a Bitch” (“Daddy was a drunk / A most unpleasant man”). On “Understanding Salesmen,” Everett expresses his fear of an uncertain future without his father (“Daddy don’t let me down this time / I’m all alone inside my mind / And it’s no small thing that I must prove to you”). “Things the Grandchildren Should Know” exhibits a dawning recognition (“I’m turning out just like my father / Though I swore I never would”) and, ultimately, offers forgiveness (“Now I can say that I have love for him / I never really understood what it must have been like for him living inside his head”).

Sadly, the grief wheel grinds on for Everett in the post-9/11 world: a cousin was a flight attendant on the plane the crashed into the Pentagon. “Blinking lights on the airplane wings up above the trees / Blinking down a Morse code signal especially for me,” he guardedly observes on “Blinking Lights (For Me).” But there’s resistance to this seemingly targeted erasure of Everett’s family line, and that’s what saves Blinking Lights from becoming a too-easy misanthropic rejection of worldly goodness, and imbues it with a deeper insight toward enjoying the time we have. On “Checkout Blues,” Everett ponders whether he can beat the family “curse,” but notes, with half-glass-full certitude, “The sky is dark now / But it’s the best dark I ever had.”

While Everett spends the greater part of Blinking Lights’ first half wrestling with the difficulties of his youth and reexamining excruciating personal tragedies, he also interweaves more universal themes, like a young couple frolicking in a graveyard (the nostalgia-tinted “In The Yard, Behind the Church”) and the demise of the American railway system (the philosophically resigned “Railroad Man”). He even finds time to work in a sardonically delightful dance number, “Going Fetal,” featuring a signature vocal solo by the inimitable Tom Waits, and successfully recycles the opening section of Daisies of the Galaxy’s “Flyswatter,” thanks to a ticking clock and a harder beat, on the conspicuous “Trouble with Dreams.”

Unsurprisingly, Blinking Lights’ second half -- focusing on Everett the survivor, his ups downs, his relationships and a growing awareness that all hope is not lost -- lacks the thematic heft of the first. A song asking “Whatever Happened to Soy Bomb,” with its built-in answer of “who cares,” seems particularly irrelevant given the weightier issues explored throughout the first disc -- which is probably Everett’s point, but the very inclusion of the track is self-defeating, nonetheless. More assertive songs like “Old Shit/New Shit” and “Hey Man (Now You're Really Living)” definitely introduce some welcome fiber into the proceedings, and heartfelt ballads like “Ugly Love” and “The Stars Shine in the Sky Tonight” stand alongside the loveliest Everett’s recorded.

On the aforementioned “Things the Grandchildren Should Know,” Everett comes full circle from the birth described at the beginning of the record (“From Which I Came/A Magic World”), and possibly alludes to the fact that this might be his last go-'round on record: “It’s not all good and it’s not all bad / Don’t believe everything you read / I’m the only one who knows what it’s like / So I thought I’d better tell you before I leave.” If that should be the case, the man called E couldn’t have given us a finer sendoff.

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