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Mark Everett – [Album]

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Saturday, 27 July 2013

If one were to expand the scope of the outsider/outcast allegory which has run through all of the music that Mark Oliver Everett has recorded over the span of his career, it should almost be expected that a prequel album which helped to lay the groundwork for Eels would exist, somewhere. As it turns out, there IS one – but Everett is a little embarrassed by it and has gone out of his way to keep it from circulating too much. That album is called Bad Dude In Love and was released seven years before Everett began recording music under the Man Called E name, and eleven before the first Eels album was released. It sounds unusual given the singer's history, but that first album – Bad Dude In Love – was released simply under the name Mark Everett.

In the decades since its release, Everett has called his first album weak and not at all representative of where he'd ultimately go with Eels. He's been generally disparaging in his limited analyses of Bad Dude In Love and, in a lot of ways, he's right; the record doesn't sound at all like Eels' music. How could it? Many of the ideas about composition and style which the singer would eventually turn into platinum-selling fare had no precedent in 1985. Nobody was making music like that back then, so who would expect it from a (then) twenty-two year old singer still young, green and untested, operating on a shoe-string budget? No one would – no one could – so of course the music on Bad Dude In Love is a long way from anything in Eels songbook; but that doesn't mean it is without value and it certainly doesn't mean that a few glimmers of where Eels would eventually go don't shimmer through anywhere among its eleven tracks. Bad Dude In Love is rough, but there's definitely something there.

Even in promising that it does get better, that doesn't mean listeners won't cringe a bit after the short vignette which launches “Everybody's Trying To Bum Me Out” ends and breaks into a sort of Was Not Was-esque pop number complete with 8-bit synths and a fanastically plastic melody. On first listen, “Everybody's Trying To Bum Me Out” doesn't foreshadow a good experience at all but, if one peels back the layers of synths, listeners will realize that there's more to the song than they initially assumed. Here, Everett is already beginning to play with the idea of contrasting hard feelings with pop forms (check out the contrast between those synths, the vocal melody and the choral rejoinder  of “Everybody's trying – trying to bum me out”) and beginning to find a preternatural version of his signature persona. Granted, it's not as refined or polished as it would appear years later (on songs like “Hey Man (Now You're Really Living),” for example), but the skeletal beginning of a decidedly 'Eels' idea is there – years before the band would gel, catch or break through.

More of the Eels' trademark sounds and approaches to composition begin to manifest as Bad Dude In Love progresses progresses along its run-time. If one scrapes some of the very, very 'Eighties'  production off of “Eunice,” for example, listeners will find Everett's introspective, Leonard Cohen-esque heart creeping in around the edges of the song, as well as E's wounded-yet-sweet thematic paradigm (which would later yield songs like “My Beloved Monster,” “Susan's House,” “Suicide Life” and “High And Lonesome”) showing through I Just Wanna Be With You” and “The Girl In My Neighborhood.” That is not to say this album isn't without some pretty impressive flaws (“Gotta Get Out Tonight,” “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby” and the title track all see E try to live awkwardly through a set of characters which just don't suit him), but simply rejecting it out of hand doesn't do it any service either; it is just the first work of a musician who was still trying to find his voice. It's not fully formed yet (not even close), but at least some of the beginnings of Mark Oliver Everett as Eels fans would grow to love him can be found here. Bad Dude In Love is the earliest available look at the anatomy of E; he would grow and change a lot after this, but this first inkling of what could happen is modestly compelling for those fans who just can't quell their curiosity.

Further Reading:
Ground Control Magazine – Eels (Discography Part One)
Ground Control Magazine – Eels – [Discography review Part Two]
Ground Control Magazine – “Mr. E's Lucky Day In Hell” – [Feature Article]

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