After a four-year hiatus in which he got married, had a baby and got divorced, Eels frontman Mark Oliver Everett has returned with his 12th album, The Deconstruction. From the melancholy, multi-genre mash-ups of his early critically acclaimed work, Everett matured gradually into an indie-rock Burt Bacharach, churning out sensitive, finely wrought material of increasing emotional directness that showed off his music-buff’s ear for standard-worthy pop melodies. Detractors will no doubt find reason to say there’s no great urgency in hearing more of Everett’s middle-aged mope and wry turn-of-phrase, but there’s a certain level of cynicism in turning away from music this thoughtful, deliberate and unpretentious.

Sonically, the album covers familiar Eels territory—Everett’s raspy-sweet voice over both tender ballads and retro-inspired, uptempo grooves alike—but it also expands to cinematic horn and string arrangements and a broad palette of keyboard effects, giving The Deconstruction something of a musical theater quality. It also features a few brief, Jon Brion-esque interludes, almost like what you’d expect to hear as stagehands come out to change the set in between scenes. Though a few of the more rock-oriented songs are entertaining—albeit familiar retreads of Eels’ past—overall The Deconstruction coheres around its quieter moments, its chamber dramas.

Indeed, musically speaking, “Sweet Scorched Earth” plays best to Everett’s current strengths, setting delicate guitar against a tasteful string arrangement, putting his voice front and center. Whereas on more uptempo numbers he occasionally gives in to the tendency to make things sound “cool,” his choice to put the spotlight on soul-baring and letting his feelings take center stage in such a raw, unaffected way shows how powerful a hold he can have on the listener even when he’s not being eclectic.

The world can be a real mean place/ When no one’s got your back,” Everett sings on the song “Premonition,” which nonetheless manages to serve as a hymn to optimism and faith in love when facing loss, disappointment and pain, a theme that courses throughout the album. On “Today Is the Day,” the closest thing the album has to a potential hit, we find a celebration of being wrong, of having to start over, of having nothing to worry about because the worst has already come true. Likewise, “Be Hurt” acts as an exhortation to allow oneself to feel pain with the assurance that it can be handled and won’t lead to one’s destruction.

In short, Everett wants us to know that we’re all “badasses in training,” to quote “There I Said It,” perhaps the album’s most moving song. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need to seek out protection. On the closing track, the organ-driven “In Our Cathedral,” Everett seems to offer both the expression of pain and promise of protection we need. Despite dreams broken and innocence lost, he sings that “there’s a line that can’t be crossed/ In our cathedral.” That line is ultimately the forgiveness and acceptance of ourselves that can be obtained through the cathartic company of music. If that isn’t a message to be thankful for, what is?

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