Eels

Paul Wong
Cast of HBO”s version laughingly discuss Meg Ryan.<br><br>Courtesy of HBO

Souljacker

Kinetic Records

All apologies to the Smashing Pumpkins, but the Eels” Beautiful Freak is the Mellow Gold of the Prozac Age. Beck wrote the definitive album about Slacker-dom, and the Eels made preoccupation with, as opposed to reaction to, one”s suffering and alienation sound just as anthemic. E, The Eels” often self-tormented lead singer, has a knack for surrounding his confessional lyrics in eclectic, symphonic arrangement lush enough to make Beck jealous. But where Beck is funky and feckless, E is funky and unflinchingly sardonic. Souljacker continues E”s project of combining melancholia, wry wit and a preternatural obsession with groove.

Eels albums are marked by their prismatic sonic experimentation. Souljacker is no different: Snorkeling sounds in “Bus Stop Boxer”, the wall of feedback in “What is this note?” and dueling xylophones in “That”s Not Really Funny.” But where 2000″s Daisies of the Galaxy found E and company uncharacteristically upbeat and sounding surprisingly blithe, Souljacker is not exactly uplifting, or even novacaine for the soul.

“Fresh Feeling” is the type of song the Eels have mastered over their last two albums. An alluring string loop threads through hip-hop beats while lyrics about some sort of droll pastoral are met with only a hint that things are not as pretty as they sound: “Birds singing a song / old paint is peeling / this is that fresh / that fresh feelin.” The pat happiness feels ominous, because the darkness is sure to return. In “Jennifer Eccles” E sounds like the post-punk Brian Wilson. It is a queasily nostalgic song about a schoolboy”s unrequited love: “Love, kiss, hate or adore,” or so ponders E. “World of Shit” is (yet another) happy-sad song about a lonely hearted boy from a broken family (“Daddy was a troubled genius / momma was a real good egg”) looking for a flower in a shit-storm: “In this world of shit / baby you are it.” E”s fragile, raspy vocals, even when affecting a Wilson-esque melody, convey a brood-ish darkness that is never far off.

One of the most refreshing, and grating, things about E is that he insists on looking at the world from an adolescent perspective: “Mom won”t take me / Jesus won”t save me / dogface boy” or so complains E on “Dogface Boy,” in his typical mock-serious fashion. That he sets these half-assed insights in stunning sonic landscapes makes the ventures through the school yards and neighborhood curmudgeons of his arrested youth endurable and, at times, sublime. “Friendly Ghost (Is All I Need),” set to a startling sonic wash of mellotron and guitar, nails down the uneasy resolution that all Eels albums eventually reach: “If you”re going to be scared to die / you better not be scared to live.” E has been confronting the monsters in his anxiety closet for years, that he neglects to depart much from his usual preoccupations should not spoil the fact that this is a pretty good, if self-indulgent, album.

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