Tomorrow Morning is the third album from Mark Oliver Everett (who, for all intents and purposes, is Eels) in just over a year. It completes a trilogy that began with 2009′s (relatively) hard-rocking Hombre Lobo and January’s monochrome, largely acoustic End Times.
Everett himself ranked End Times as his most downbeat album to date. And, coming from the man responsible for 1998′s self-lacerating masterpiece Electro-Shock Blues, this is saying quite a lot. The forward-looking album title ought to clue the listener in: Tomorrow Morning is an optimistic, cheery album, and not just by Eels’ standards. “I didn’t want to go any further down”, said Everett in a recent interview. “After [End Times], there was only one direction to go. I had to go up!”
And Tomorrow Morning is indeed Eels’ most upbeat album to date. The album oozes contentment and is studded with carpe diem-esque statements like The Morning’s “It’s anybody’s day / It could go any way / Why wouldn’t you make the most of it?”. Earlier Eels songs like Jeanie’s Diary and That Look You Give That Guy have turned unrequited crushes into sketches of self-loathing, but on Tomorrow Morning’s Baby Loves Me, Everett shuns his usual introspection and simply savours the moment. It results in the album’s funniest lines: “Record company hates me / The doctor says I’m sick / The bad girls think I’m just too nice / And the nice ones call me ‘dick’ / But baby loves me / Unlikely but true.”
Everett’s newly optimistic approach produces some of his most enjoyable recent songs. Spectacular Girl, with its breakbeat and Rhodes keyboard-assisted breakdown, recalls 1996′s hit single Susan’s House. I’m A Hummingbird continues Everett’s ornithological interest (see also: 2000′s I Like Birds and End Times’ Little Bird), and its sumptuous layers of programmed strings weave nicely queasy countermelodies to Everett’s words. The lilting, soulful That’s Not Her Way is another easygoing winner.
Unfortunately Everett’s happy state of mind is prone to triteness. He can get away with lyrics like “I used to be cruel / Kind of a tool / Like a damn fool / Now I’m oh-so-kind / Got no worried mind” on the fun gospel pastiche Looking Up. But similarly phoned-in lines simply won’t cut the mustard when tethered to the stock melodies and rhyming schemes of What I Have To Offer and I Like The Way This Is Going. Lines such as “What I have to offer / Well there’s so much / A caring nature and / A tender touch” and “I like to watch TV with you / There’s really nothing that I would rather do” should never have made it past the first revision stage. Tracks like these sound just far too easy for Everett, and they’ve blighted Eels albums ever since 2003′s career nadir Shootenanny!.
Overall, Tomorrow Morning is a good, but far from great, record. Everett is a talented and single-minded man, and perhaps that makes him averse to collaboration. Despite contributions from regular foils Koool G Murder and Knuckles, Tomorrow Morning is still an Everett solo project through and through. Perhaps not un-coincidentally, it sounds hemmed-in and unambitious. Everett may need to work with a rigorous editor if he’s to scale the heights of Electro-Shock Blues again, but the bright and breezy Tomorrow Morning is likely to keep his fans happy for now.