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Eels
Electro-Shock Blues
Dreamworks

After releasing Beautiful Freak (a perfect title for that album!), a close to excellent debut in 1996, Eels now presents a follow-up. But; "same procedure as last year" is not good enough. I was worried by hearing/seeing the title, Electro-Shock Blues - I'm not a big blues-fan and EST gives me the creeps.

Eels is Mark Everett's, or E's band. Eels is almost like being a solo project by multi-instrumentalist E. Drummer (and singer) Butch is still an associate, but bass- and French horn-player Tommy left the band after the release of their first album, which has turned the trio into a duo. E's playing most of the instruments, but there're also some additional musicians contributing; Grant Lee Phillips (of Grant Lee buffalo), Lisa Germano with her violin, and T-Bone Burnett, to name a few. But E's in charge, and he's come up with songs reflecting that he's been having a tough time since last time. Therapy through art may not be new, but for me listening to Electro-Shock Blues is too much of someone's private and personal life, and the pain and tragic circumstances that can happen. From song one, Elizabeth on the Bathroom Floor I get the feeling that I've entered a room I shouldn't have come in to, or looking through a window witnessing things beyond my concern. E tells, or indicates some harsh and naked stories of angst, isolation and mental suffering, of mental institutions, medication and suicide, of illness, death and funerals. Even Beautiful Freak had lyrics that touched different mental states, and, yes, of course black humor is one of E's lyrical angels. But, there are grades of black, and total darkness isn't much fun.

Yet, my main problem with Electro-Shock Blues is the music, which sounds like too much recycling of ideas and not enough freshness and acrobatism. On some songs it sounds like they've been ripping themselves off. Eels still uses elements of hip-hop like Beck does, there are some drops of Morhine in their jazzy moments, and I also do associate some parts of Eels' melodies and moods with some of The The's 80's material. E does even sound like a "Tom Waits light" now and again, both in voice and arrangements.

I do like the single-choise Last Stop: This Town, and a couple of the calm songs towards the end of the album is OK. But, all in all I was extremely disappointed with this album. E seems to be an odd type, a quirky freak maybe, or maybe a too honest guy who's been trying to get rid of all the heaviest stuff on his heart and in his mind. However, there seems to be some light somewhere out there, as he sings in the closing track, the touching P.S. You Rock My Heart:

And I was thinkin' 'bout how
everyone is dying
And maybe it's time to live

Eels has skipped the beauty, with too much of the sad freak-show remaining.

Copyright © 1998 Håvard Oppøyen e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Eels article/review: Wonderful, Glorious.

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