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+ {(E)} + {MC Honky} + {Mark Oliver Everett}

By all intents and purposes, EELS mainman E (aka Mark Oliver Everett, born April 9th 1963, Virginia) is a modern-day genius, inspired by his late, physicist father who died in 1982. Always more interested in the music rather than quantum theories and engineering, Mark Everett (as he was then billed) finally found his niche in the biz after swapping drugs and a job as a gas pump attendant to take his position as a solo artist; his post-new wave/pre-E debut LP in 1985, BAD DUDE IN LOVE {*3}, was recently swapping hands at around $5,000. A sort of limited-edition vanity set to prove to his elder sister Liz that he could make it, just don’t mention the record as he avoids it like the plague.
Developing a love of the avant-garde pop and the playing of toy instruments (which carried from a boyhood diversion), Everett relocated to California, pseudonymously altered his professional name to E and released two US-only albums for Polydor: A MAN CALLED (E) (1992) {*7} and BROKEN TOY SHOP (1993) {*6}. Both produced by Parthenon Huxley, the first of these was buoyed by the near crossover success of opener, `Hello Cruel World’. Described in some circles as heavenly alt-rock inspired by BRIAN WILSON, PAUL McCARTNEY and ELTON JOHN, singer Everett plays and orchestrates everything on the album; one could see early traits of EELS on `Looking Out The Window With A Blue Hat On’, `Mockingbird Franklin’ and `Nowheresville’. A latecomer to the world of pop/rock, his “Broken Toy Shop” was characterised by a renaissance Brit-sound; example “Manchester Girl’, `The Only Thing I Care About’ and `Someone To Break The Spell’ (penned with bassist Jennifer Condos and BANGLES lass, Susanna Hoffs).
Subsequently hooking up with DreamWorks Records and fellow slippery characters Tommy Walter (bass) and Butch Norton (drums), the newly-founded EELS set free their electric debut album, BEAUTIFUL FREAK (1996) {*8}. Lyrically grim, EELS packaged their tales of dysfunctional Americana in deceptively effervescent indie melodies; the UK Top 10 singles `Novocaine For The Soul’ and the cool `Susan’s House’ being prime examples of post-grunge lo-fi rock. While the album struggled to break E (and band) in his homeland, Britain took them to their hearts in 1997, where the set cracked the Top 5; other lush beauties coming through `Your Lucky Day In Hell’ (their third UK hit), `My Beloved Monster’ and the dreamy title track.
1998’s ELECTRO-SHOCK BLUES {*8} was a more private and personal exploration of life’s darker side, E exorcising the demons of his sister’s suicide and his mother’s equally upsetting death from lung cancer; tracks `Elizabeth On The Bathroom Floor’ and `Cancer For The Cure’ are respective paeans to their passing. Understandably, only `Last Stop: This Town’ made it through as UK singles successes from the angst-ridden, drug-addled set; the concept pieces `My Descent Into Madness’, the BECK-meets-WAITS-like `Hospital Food’ and `The Medication Is Wearing Off’, detail his anguish more than mere words could translate.
After the very morbid musings heard in his “Electro-Shock” set, EELS (having fished-out new bassist Adam Siegal) decided to record an album that harked back to the softer, more upbeat version of the band – the kind of styles presented as an introduction on the “Beautiful Freak” set. Entitled DAISIES OF THE GALAXY (2000) {*7}, the UK Top 10 record was a fantastic journey into the heart of Everett’s psyche – but America just didn’t see his appeal. Standout single, `Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues’, saw the man singing about something more positive, but however bleak his songs were, the message still stood the same: life is a beautiful thing… enjoy it. `The Sound Of Fear’ displayed his brilliant backing band’s use of instrumentation, with a creeping bass that sounded similar to NIRVANA’s “Lithium”, before the jazzy snare kicked into gear. `It’s A Motherfucker’ (plus minor UK hit `Flyswatter’) made an example of his songwriting talents, in the way he could turn such a sour subject matter into such a sweet song.
The amusing live set, OH WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNING (2000) {*6} – named after a Rodgers & Hammerstein track – saw a collection of net-only live recordings taken from everywhere, including Glasgow, Los Angeles, New York and London (by this point, bassist Tommy Walter had bailed, to be replaced by LISA GERMANO). The band threw in a few further odd-ball covers along the way (`Feeling Good’ opened the show); the bearded Everett’s staggering solo performances were awesome.
Turning to producer JOHN PARISH for inspiration, the strange and disjointed SOULJACKER {*6} album appeared in September 2001 to tepid critical response, coming as it did a couple of weeks after the 9/11 tragedy. E, dressed as the notorious American terrorist the Unabomber, and taking the name from an equally notorious serial killer (who believed he stole his victim’s souls when he killed them), the album was patchy at best. Full of strange, unfinished ideas, the set had an uneven quality reflecting the “Electro-Shock” album almost to a tee. However, after the enigmatic and more mainstream “Daisies…” album, it was nice to see a little diversity in Everett and his group’s music; the Siegal-scribed `Souljacker Part I’ dented the British Top 30.
Overlooked by a business that could easily diss a rock-orientated soundtrack work as a piece of dirt lying on the ground, Mark Oliver Everett took full billing on music from the film, LEVITY (2003) {*6}. On reflection, the score was quite sedate but effective, and there were two exclusive treats for EELS fans in the shape of `Skywriting’ and `Taking A Bath In Rust’. On an extremely different level, E’s mysterious exploits in anonymous MC HONKY breakbeat/rap sidestep for I AM THE MESSIAH (2003) {*6}, was a bright interlude for the man. Thought to his 50-year-old janitor-turned-engineer alter-ego, E hits the KID LOCO/BECK button on `Soft Velvety ‘Fer’, `Sonnet No.3 (Like A Duck)’, `The Object’ and `3 Turntables & 2 Microphones’.
A few months of mulling over the twists and turns of Everett, EELS were back with more subliminal humour and self-consciously bleak lyrical portraits on SHOOTENANNY! (2003) {*7}, a single-less album sounding more and more like the contrary, wilfully wayward troubadour he’d always threatened to become. Reunited with synth-man Koool G Murder on writing credits (he’d joined for a live tour in 2000), EELS again failed to achieve the promise they’d set out some several years ago, while in Britain for once, their poorest sales stalled them at a lowly No.35 peak position. Deep in acerbic, tongue-in-cheek lyrical mode (comparisons to BECK seemed to be an albatross around E’s neck), prime cuts came through `All In A Day’s Work’, `Rock Hard Times’ and `Somebody Loves You’.
There was a beguiling charm about E’s determinedly downbeat outlook, a strength which he continued to play to with his follow-up release. BLINKING LIGHTS AND OTHER REVELATIONS (2005) {*8} was EELS first album for the emerging Vagrant Records (Polydor in Britain), an even more self-reflective double-set. The blinking lights of the title shone across E’s tattered back pages, resulting in some of his most revealing, intimate songwriting to date, fleshed out with the help of JOHN SEBASTIAN and R.E.M.’s wayward Peter Buck; surprisingly, the record returned him to the UK Top 20 and finally broke through in his homeland. Clocking in at over an hour and a half, and featuring no less that 33 cuts, one would be hard pressed to pinpoint the set’s highlights, but the quirky `Hey Man (Now You’re Really Living)’, `Trouble With Dreams’, `Dust Of Ages’ and `I’m Going To Stop Pretending That I Didn’t Break Your Heart’, come up trumps with a few listens.
Like many a hallowed great before him, the lone Eel subsequently recorded New York set, WITH STRINGS: LIVE AT TOWN HALL (2006) {*7}, a rootin’ tootin’ record accompanied by the alumni of Big Al and Chet Atkins III (alias Lyster). Covers on the night included The LEFT BANKE’s `Pretty Ballerina’ DYLAN’s `Girl From The North Country’ and JOHNNY RIVERS’ `Poor Side Of Town’.
The limited-edition CD/DVD package, LIVE AND IN PERSON! LONDON 2006 (2008) {*6}, stretched the band’s concert CV beyond America, while Everett’s second stab at soundtracks in the Jim Carrey vehicle, YES MAN (2008) {*6}, proved to be just an EELS compilation with one fresh track (`Man Up’) and some addendum tracks by the movie’s female co-star, Zooey Deschanel, alongside Von Iva and Munchausen by Proxy.
Four years on from his previous EELS studio outing, HOMBRE LOBO: 12 SONGS OF DESIRE (2009) {*7}, was just the ticket to finally reap his rewards in America. While it nearly cracked his country’s elusive Top 40 and returned him to Top 20 status in Britain, E (or Koool G Murder) dealt with primal human traits such as wanton lust, loneliness and jealousy via respective dirges like `The Longing’, `Ordinary Man’ and `That Look You Give That Guy’.
END TIMES (2010) {*7} continued his thematic, concept approach to his albums of late, and this time the ageing process and his sense of immortality through loss and grief took precedence. Almost LENNON incarnate, `I Need A Mother’ was typical of his joyless strop (`In My Younger Days’ was another), while `Gone Man’ was easily the set’s introspective rocker. His quick-fire trilogy was completed by TOMORROW MORNING (2010) {*7}, a hopeful finale to the man’s rather recession-dour and intimate time. Distorted drum and synth-beats take equal billing to his avant-garde narratives; `This Is Where It Gets Good’ and its counteractive, `I’m a Hummingbird’ and `Spectacular Girl’, were highlights that required attention.
2013’s WONDERFUL, GLORIOUS {*8} was closer to TOM WAITS and BECK as ever; proof in the pudding coming in “SwordEelsTrombones”-like `Bombs Away’, `New Alphabet’ and `Open My Present’, while Everett had lightened up his organic grounding in `Kinda Fuzzy’ and `Peach Blossom’. Why the set was chasing a higher chart placing in America once again, when it reached No.14 in Old Blighty, confounded E fans, critics and alien beings alike.
Following a similar chart pattern (Top 10 UK), THE CAUTIONARY TALES OF MARK OLIVER EVERETT (2014) {*7} – for punters unaware of his full name – EELS main protagonist projected his literate introspection of death and better days ahead via orchestrated acoustics or sparse, uptempo bursts of detached joy. Losing himself in regret through `Agatha Chang’, the thread of the troubled set seemed to be turning middle-aged, if the bookend tracks `Where I’m At’ and `Where I’m Going’, via `Where I’m From’, were anything to go by. Capturing the true essence of E can be hard and heady, but in solid tracks such as `Parallels’ and `Lockdown Hurricane’, some of what makes the singer tick is solved – yeah, right!
Rounding off a spring-summer world tour on July 30, 2014, and filmed in London, the double-CD/DVD package ROYAL ALBERT HALL (2015) {*6} was a culmination of dapper Mark’s “wonderful, glorious” career. A mention to The BEATLES while kissing the sacred spot where LENNON once stood, or performing a lifetime’s ambition on the hall’s pipe organ as the group played a round of encores, well… fans could strap themselves in for a long and winding journey through their back catalogue and other “cautionary tales”.
© MC Strong 1998-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Mar2013-Apr2015

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