Eels | HANDOUT PHOTO
Updated: May 21, 2014 12:34PM
On his 2001 album “Souljacker,” Mark Oliver Everett wrote the tragi-comical tale of the “Dog Faced Boy.” “Ma won’t shave me, Jesus can’t save me,” he sang. Despite such outlandish fables, Everett’s writing rings of brutal honesty. He has publicly worked through tremendous emotional wreckage on his records. Family misfortunes echoed painfully through 1998’s “Electro-Shock Blues.” Similarly frank work peppered ensuing projects.
So, when Everett wrote of sunnier skies on his optimistic 2010 album “Tomorrow Morning,” fans rooted for him. Last year’s “Wonderful, Glorious” was a mixed bag, balancing the anticipated rapture of “Open My Present” with the embattled but determined “On the Ropes.”
The latter song points the way to Eels’ newest project, “The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett.” The album surveys the internal struggle to succumb or continue following a rocky stretch. “This was about a pretty specific situation, and it’s a struggle I still feel every day,” says Everett. “You have to make the choice to keep fighting as long as you can.”
After the regret-stricken backward glance of “Agatha Chang” and the crippling depression encountered in “Gentleman’s Choice,” “Answers” finds Everett surveying the damage like a bewildered survivor. It’s undetermined whether the song represents confusion or acceptance. “It’s both, and that’s one of the nice things about music,” says Everett. “In the lyric I sound confused, but by writing the song, I feel more accepting of it all.”
“Mistake of My Youth” and “Kindred Spirit” find Everett reaching for the light and summoning his resolve. “I think you can only effectively get to that kind of a breakthrough after drudging through the dirt,” he says.
The journey ends with cautious optimism. “I’ve got a good feeling about where I’m going,” sings Everett during the final song, “Where I’m Going.” “That’s where I am in life,” says Everett. “I’m not exactly where I want to be, but I feel like I’m pointing in the right direction.”
“Happiness is a choice a lot of the time,” says Everett. “You can try to be happy about what you have, or you can choose to be unhappy about what you don’t have. I just try to remind myself as often as possible, and a song like that helps.”
Eels’ visit to the Vic Theatre last February found Everett embracing that happiness with his bandmates. There were no smug rock star glances across the stage. “Gimme a hug” was a common exclamation throughout the show, as Everett celebrated musical highlights with a string of brotherly embraces.
“It’s funny how hard everyone’s trying to play it cool,” says Everett. “We wanted to show everybody how much we enjoy this. It’s really cathartic to say on stage, ‘This is fun,’ because it is.”
♦ Eels, with Chelsea Wolfe, 8 p.m. May 24, The Vic Theatre, 3145 North Sheffield, (773) 472-0449. Tickets $35 (ages 18+over); victheatre.com. SPOTIFY playlist: http://tinyurl.com/eelsSPOT
Jeff Elbel is a Sun-Times free-lance writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org