Summertime blues

Eels frontman Mark Everett dictates his music without restraint.

Nathan Hall

Democracy is all well and good, but it hardly makes for great rock and roll.

Although granting power to the people is inarguably the way to go in terms of large-scale political systems, the best bands, for whatever reason, always seem to feature totalitarian rule. If you’ve ever had the unfortunate privilege of dating or raising a musician, than you already know that they are by nature a feckless, unreliable and unruly lot.

Everyone from the Smashing Pumpkin’s Billy Corgan to Captain Beefheart’s Don Van Vliet created their best work while ruling with a brutal iron fist, threatening anyone who questioned orders with immediate unemployment. No one knows the value of such authoritarian musical regimes better than the Eels’ Mark Everett.

Washington, D.C.-born high school dropout Everett, 40, is the brains and brawn behind his glorified extended solo project. He’s still perhaps best known in most circles for penning the eerily catchy 1996 single “Novocaine for the Soul.” Since then, he has subtly plodded along, moving just enough units to retain a major label contract – content with releasing a handful of heartbreakingly beautiful pop albums, which are then dumped unceremoniously in strip mall remainder bins. Despite that, he has toured the world several times over and is financially solvent. Everett has steadfastly maintained a constant revolving door for his hapless accompanying band mates, most notably Lisa Germano and Aimee Mann.

Autocratic tendencies notwithstanding, the “Shootenanny” disc is undoubtedly an engrossing exercise in sociopathic levels of narcissism and depressive self-reflection. Everett’s gravelly, just-got-out-of-bed delivery, perhaps best evidenced on “Restraining Order Blues,” again aids in revisiting the tumultuous, morbid themes he has been honing to crass perfection since the early 1990s. “Rock Hard Times,” steeped in metaphor and allegory, revisits the rich black humor also featured on the score he composed for the recent Billy Bob Thornton flick “Levity.”

But for all of his prodigious talent, the navel gazing, pithy self-pity and back-patting can only take him so far. Stressing the limits of egoism to nefarious new lows, his DJ alter-ego MC Honky will be opening for, well, himself on the tour swinging through downtown this week. To be sure, Honky’s debut “I Am the Messiah” is indeed a thoroughly enjoyable, Lemon Jelly-esque divergence into spot-the-sample audio collage. However, the fact that he still angrily insists to the press that Mr. Honky is a real person makes the shtick annoying, not cute.

Ultimately, Everett’s antisocial behavior, dictatorial qualities and push for self-reliance can easily be understood by his harsh upbringing. His father, an acclaimed quantum physicist, died when he was 19. His troubled sister committed suicide in 1996 and his mother was diagnosed soon after with terminal lung cancer. His only solace in the horrific tragedy of losing his entire family became recording some truly moving songs on a cheap four-track recorder machine. Happily, however, the awkward loner eventually got married and became a call-the-shots rock star. Sometimes it’s good to be the king.

The Eels will perform at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at First Ave. Advance tickets are $12 for this 21+ event. MC Honky opens.

Nathan Hall welcomes comments at [email protected]