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Friday, April 22, 2011

Rant #17 - "I Bet You Are Flying Inside, An Eels Retrospective"

Way back in August of last year, I created a retrospective of Green Day per the request of follower janis! I'm doing the same thing today with one of my favorite bands of all time, the Eels. No one asked me to do it, and as far as I can tell - I only know one other person who enjoys their music, and he doesn't read this blog. So I guess this lengthy rant will go to serve a couple purposes:

1) To one more time tell you guys how awesome they are.
2) Help my partner in crime Heidi navigate through their music.
3) Promote their show in Milwaukee coming in August. (which Heidi and I will be attending)

They're also playing a bunch of other dates, PLEASE go to the show if they're near you and you have the means. Their tour dates can be found here.

The Eels started in 1995 when a man named E (Mark Oliver Everett - pictured above) decided to form a band. He had released three solo albums, and decided to take it further when he met Butch Norton and Tommy Walter. They chose the name Eels so this band's recording would be close to E's solo work. It was realized too late that various Earth, Wind & Fire and Eagles albums would come between the two works. The Eels become one of the very first bands to be signed to DreamWorks records - of course related to the movie studio. They went defunct in 2005. Alas, that's where my love started.

1996 saw the first release by the band, an album called 'Beautiful Freak'. You can already find my review on the blog, but I'll highlight some things. 'Novocaine for the Soul' hit the radio airwaves and had a nice video on MTV. That song was enough for me to buy the album. As soon as I put it in, I knew this was one of the better albums I'd ever heard. Even though I was only 12 years old, I knew this was incredibly different and something special. Sounds wise, it's second to none and lyrically - one of the better albums ever written. While each song has a different genre of sound, they also have some lyrics that will captivate you. The album got pushed into a couple movies, which also helped the success. My favorite story related to this album was the song 'Beautiful Freak'. It was a track about E's girl at the time, and he joked in his book, "perhaps if I hadn't referred to her as a freak, she'd still be my girlfriend." Nice.

1998 saw the follow up of the successful 'Freak', with 'Electro-Shock Blues'. Now - this album. Wow. I can almost promise you that you've never listened to such a personal, heart breaking album before. E's mother was diagnosed with cancer and his sister committed suicide within weeks of each other, and he wrote all those thoughts down and made an album. The album talks about their issues and his emotions dealing with those events. DreamWorks didn't want to put this album out, because it was so incredibly sad. Eventually it was released, and critics were beyond impressed. It was hard to put it out commercially, because of the lack of upbeat singles. 'Cancer for the Cure' made an appearance in American Beauty and then one other track saw minor airplay. I can't even listen to this album for singles. I always listen to it start to finish, as E intended. It tells one of the best album stories of all time, and makes you really contemplate how bad things really can get.

2000 marked the drop of 'Daisies of the Galaxy'. This record was recording in E's basement, and was a drastic contrast to 'Electro-Shock'. E described it as, "if Electro-Shock Blues was the phone call in the middle of the night that the world doesn't want to answer, then Daisies of the Galaxy is the hotel wake-up call that says your lovely breakfast is ready." This contains the single you're most likely to have heard, 'Mr. E's Beautiful Blues' which was featured on the Road Trip soundtrack. It generated some controversy because of some censorship that happened in a couple songs. This was at a time when George W. Bush was running for president. And the album was given out to the Democratic party as a gift, when one of Bush's men (Dan Bartlett) got a hold of it, he went on a rant of his own. He called it, "an example of obscenity-laden entertainment marketed to children." That only because the image on the cover is a cartoon, and not normal artwork. What a moron. All that "negative" publicity turned out great for the band. They got a chance to be on their first international tour, and opened for Fiona Apple in Australia. Not too shabby. This isn't my favorite album by them, but it's still rock solid.

2001 saw the drop of 'Souljacker', one of the Eels heavier records. The American release was delayed again due to the lack of radio friendly singles as determined by DreamWorks. This was also the first time Everett decided to write songs about other people's lives, and not his own. You can understand what people he was looking at just by the song titles. There are a lot of really good tracks on this record. 'Fresh Feeling' was used on the TV show Chuck, and that was about it for pop culture stuff. 'Souljacker Part 1' is an awesome track, both recorded and live and 'Dog Faced Boy' seemed to really get the crowd going last concert. This is another album that normally would get lost as a "middle of the discography" type record, but it's still really good. At a time when the Eels were seriously touring hard and going through some lineup changes, it would have been easy to let the quality slip. Which, the label also seemed to want. Less quality for more poppy or radio single type music. Thankfully, E stuck to his guns, and created another stupendous record.

2003 marked the release of 'Shootenanny!' which would be the final album the Eels made under the DreamWorks umbrella. The name came from E as a moniker for, "a social gathering at which participants engage in folk singing and sometimes dancing, but mostly the shooting of guns." I have no clue where that came from in his head, but it's E. You just have to try to follow his madness. This album never really got paid any attention by critics or even the band. They were working on their next record, which was set to be this bigtime masterpiece, but they hit a few roadblocks in the creative process. The band decided to turn the attention to a different record, and they put this together in a studio in ten days. Yeah, ten days. E just jotted down some notes and put in some things he'd written in years past. I think since no one was expecting this record and anticipating the next, it was simply skipped over. It is probably one of my least favorite Eels records, but hey, it's still quite good. Their "bad" is still about a 3.5 on my rating scale. At least the songs are still written by E and weren't something that got put out because the masses needed a fix.

2005 - finally. Finally the release of the 33 track, double album - 'Blinking Lights and Other Revelations'. E wrote this album was about, "God and all the questions related to the subject of God. It's also about hanging on to my remaining shreds of sanity and the blue sky that comes the day after a terrible storm, and it's a love letter to life itself, in all its beautiful, horrible glory." Wow. That's the kind of guy E is. I got a chance to really sit down and listen to all 33 tracks about a month ago. This album is top to bottom, one of the most genre spanning mashes I've ever heard. The songs range from pop to mood to rock to soul to everything in between. E started touring with a full orchestra for this record, and they ended up releasing another album with the orchestra. A hand written lyric sheet from E sold on eBay for $600 dollars or so from this record, and that money was all given to charity.

In 2008 - something non music related happened. And normally I wouldn't talk about such non-important things as books, but E wrote a book called 'Things The Grandchildren Should Know'. Now, I didn't know this until mid 2010, and I bought it for myself for Christmas. Let me tell you - I don't read. Can't stand it. But I could NOT put this book down. It was 250 pages of a guy that has probably gone through the WORST life ever, but keeps moving and finding ways to put it all behind him. If you never have listened to an Eels album - I'd encourage you to read this first. Read the story about the man writing all these songs, and then the albums make even more of an impact. I know they did for me, when I went back after reading. Beautiful piece of literature.

Sometime in 2009 the Eels announced they were releasing a trio of concept albums - all to come out within a few months of each other. The first was 'Hombre Lobo'. I don't want to overstate this or whatever, but this album is flat out phenomenal. E states, "I wanted to write a set of songs about desire. That dreadful, intense want that gets you into all sorts of situations that can change your life in big ways." The album also served as a sequel to 'Dog Faced Boy' - The character of "Dog Faced Boy" has grown up into a werewolf and is the protagonist who experiences various types of desire throughout the songs. Talk about a neat concept to spin off an old album. I've only seen one guy give this a bad review, and he's a loser. This album is mostly rock and then a couple ballad songs that are quite amazing. It'll be tough at the end, but this might be my favorite record.

2010 saw the next two concept albums, 'End Times' and 'Tomorrow Morning'. The first being an album about broken and lost loves. It was done on a four track recorder again in a basement. There are some really reflective songs on that album. 'End Times' is a great single, as well as 'In My Younger Days'. The type of songs you put on and you just stop what you're doing, and listen. Listen to the words and you feel exactly the picture E is painting. And you feel his pain. All the weight of things pressing down on him from years of problems. It's just...captivating. 'Tomorrow Morning' saw the final of the concept albums, and it deals with redemption. This also marked the capstone in which the Eels decided to tour based off of. E wore a white suit at each performance and tossed ice cream treats out to the fans. Which was incredibly neat. I haven't listened to this record in a while, but it's certainly a change of pace from the previous two. It's finally upbeat and forward looking - but that isn't always E's wheelhouse. Sometimes it's hard for me to believe that he is experiencing the good times, because I'm used to him writing about all the bad. I don't think the music suffers, and this album is again, solid.

Albums In My Favorite Order:
1. Beautiful Freak
2. Hombre Lobo
3. Electro-Shock Blues
4. End Times
5. Souljacker
6. Blinking Lights And Other Revelations
7. Daisies Of The Galaxy
8. Shootenanny!
9. Tomorrow Morning

I would consider listening to albums in that order as well. That will provide you with a nice mix of new/old and upbeat/sorrowful. I really do recommend reading the book first too. I think it's easier to put the songs and whatnot in perspective, when you understand his life and his thought process. And I promise, it's a fantastic read. Unless you hate reading about others' lives, it's well worth your time. Heck, if I know you and you live near me, you can borrow my copy. I believe in it that much.

I know this is another shameful plug for a favorite band of mine, but I really do love them. And again, if you can - go to the show. It was one of the more energetic and overall fun performances I've seen in years. It's a bunch of guys who love to put on a real 'show' and they love the music they play. Sometimes, that's rare.

Have a great weekend B Siders!

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