Not only is the sun the go-to metaphor for Mark Oliver Everett on The Deconstruction, the singer-songwriter displays a far sunnier disposition on the Eels’s 12th album than he has in the past. Gone is his usual gloomy introspection and trenchant self-awareness, replaced by a surprisingly optimistic tone and the vaguest of personal affirmations. Everett embellishes the album’s dozen songs with an ethereal backing choir and stirring string section, the latter of which brings to mind 2010’s Tomorrow Morning, though The Deconstruction lacks the earlier album’s emphasis on offbeat electronic flourishes. Pensive stabs of orchestration add tension to the title track, on which Everett can only muster generic musings on the need to break oneself apart in order to be rebuilt into something new.
Sonically, The Deconstruction is far more eclectic than 2014’s sullen, stripped-down The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett. This album oscillates between upbeat rock songs and wistful piano and acoustic guitar ballads, with Everett often throwing in unexpected textures from a harpsichord or theremin without ever quite indulging in the instrumental preciousness he’s prone to. But the drastic change in tempo from track to track can be jarring, as when the ambient music on “The Epiphany” clashes with the irrepressibly peppy guitar melody of “Today Is the Day.” A number of brief, half-formed interludes make the album feel more fragmented than connected.
The Deconstruction reduces the complex spectrum of human emotions to mere binaries.
Throughout The Deconstruction, Everett’s lyrics, in their newfound optimism, too often shy away from confronting difficult realities and instead come off as endorsing obliviousness. Though admitting that the world can be “a real mean place” on the sleepy acoustic guitar number “Premonition,” he blithely declares that “everything will be fine” before going on to nonsensically insist that it doesn’t matter if we “kill or [are] killed” because, regardless, the “sun’s gonna shine.” But Everett doesn’t expound on this paradoxically hopeful nihilism, instead offering clichés about love conquering all. Carpe diem sentiments course through the sanguine “Today Is the Day,” as Everett sings about unspecified personal change occurring spontaneously and so thoroughly that he hasn’t “got a thing to worry about now.”
When Everett does dip back into melancholic terrain, he gets sentimental, as on “The Epiphany,” where, over wistful strings, he expresses a desire to go back to “those halcyon days” in a “simpler time when we were so happy and free.” On “Be Hurt,” he insists that it’s okay to let yourself feel pain after making mistakes, while again belaboring the breaking-dawn imagery that pervades the album. Even when the sun metaphors take a darker turn, such as on the apocalypse-lite of “Sweet Scorched Earth,” there’s a silver lining in the idea of undying love and affection. Likewise, upon singing of being greedily consumed by a lover in the relatively bleak “Bone Dry,” Everett can’t help but compare the remaining husk of himself to the beauty of a “pink sunset.”
With his emphasis on dark versus light throughout The Deconstruction, Everett reduces the complex spectrum of human emotions to mere binaries; everything’s either laughter or tears, fear or love. This reductive approach is most pronounced on “In Our Cathedral,” as he sings of retreating from the cruel world to a quasi-mystical place where “you don’t need to be afraid.” It’s emblematic of the album’s overall endorsement of stultifying escapism.