It’s now more than a decade since Mark Oliver Everett brought his band into our consciousness. At the time the music of Beck had just taken hold, and it was initially difficult to choose between the two, the first single Novocaine For The Soul rubbing shoulders with material from Odelay.
Soon it became apparent that Eels were more obviously songwriters, and Everett (‘E’) in particular, for this is his project. Eleven years on, these songs stand up so incredibly well that their appeal remains the same, shining lights in the author’s darkness.
Immediately apparent is the vividness of expression found by ‘E’ in his music, as if he were gathering all the tragic events in his life and purging them through the medium, somehow emerging the other end with wonderful pop music. A cleansing experience for the performer, perhaps, while the listener experiences emotional vulnerability yet strength in depth, loving relationships in all their forms of bloom and decay, hopes, fears, birds and cats. The last two aren’t a joke, for now and then E will conjure up vivid imagery around small beings that portray his feelings acutely, but allow him a sly bit of humour and picture painting too.
Consider the hits in one listen and the casual observer will be surprised about how many they know. Your Lucky Day In Hell, Susan’s House, Novocaine For The Soul, Mr E’s Beautiful Blues. All are wonderfully affirmative, despite what their titles might offer, and all contain sharply descriptive music. Susan’s House in particular takes you straight to the scene, as the “girl with long brown hair who can’t be more than seventeen, she sucks on a red popsicle while she pushes a baby girl in a pink carriage.” It’s word painting of the highest order.
Delicacy and thinly veiled aggression co-exist in Eels songs. 3 Speed sums it up perfectly. “Life is funny – but not ha ha funny – peculiar I guess, you think I got it all going my way, then why am I such a fucking mess” sings E, over a soft guitar and flute. And it’s this approach that mean his songs work on at least two levels, as the listener can enjoy the colourful orchestration or plug in directly to the deeply personal lyrics.
Then there’s the more obvious singles such as Last Stop: This Town, whose rhythms find the band skirting hip hop territory. The cover of Get Ur Freak On makes the link more tangible in theory, but this becomes an extraordinary, thrashy version from its ominous bass rumble to the complete devastation that occurs before the end.
It’s an indication of the emotional range E has at his disposal, able to snarl and swoon – sometimes in the course of the same song – but always operating on a level that communicates with the listener.
Twelve years of fine songwriting get their dues then – and we can be glad that the ‘Part 1′ implies there’s plenty of life in the Eels yet. Everett may have had a truly shitty personal life, but Meet The Eels proves he has found a wonderful means of expressing this to his own personal profit.