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Shootenanny!

Eels

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Album Review

Of the legions of artists and characters to emerge in the great alt-rock explosion of the '90s, the man called E is one of the oddest, partially because he's etched a career that is both doggedly obstinate and strangely predictable. Throughout his career, E has followed his muse wherever it takes him — it just happens to take him to places that seem familiar. Just as the alt-rock circus kicked off in 1992, he released A Man Called (E) to little more than power pop acclaim, but once he formed an ad-hoc band called the Eels in 1996, he gained a hit with "Novocaine for the Soul" and earned a cult following that he sustained into the 21st century when, once again, he was a one-man band, only this time retaining the commercial cache (or at least recognition) that came with the Eels' name. His 2003 effort, Shootenanny!, is the first where he doesn't make much of a pretense of this being a band affair — the notes say it's "performed by Mark Oliver Everett (you can call him 'E')" — and it does not seem like a coincidence that it's also his best album since his dark night of the soul, 1998's Electro-Shock Blues. In many ways, it's a lot more listenable, since the doom that hangs over that album makes it a little impenetrable. This has a sour temper and a black humor, as well as a general sense of self-satisfied gloominess, but he's more tongue-in-cheek about it these days, as the impish title suggests. This record isn't folky, the way hootenannies were, but it does have a strong blues and singer/songwriter element to the record. Since he's been saddled with this comparison countless times, it feels both trite and unfair to say he often sounds like Beck on Shootenanny!, but he does — he sounds like a combination of Beck and Tom Waits, put through a power pop prism. So, even if it isn't entirely original, it is an appealing sound, but E has turned into a good editor, trimming away his excesses, emphasizing both his hooks and his atmosphere, and bringing it all in at 40 minutes. It's not as poppy as some of his other albums, but it is more focused and appealing, and one of the stronger testaments to his ornery talents.

Customer Reviews

EELS ≠ Beck

I’m sorry if I seem to have missed something, but I often find these constant comparisons to Beck dubious, even irritating. Beyond superficial texturing and vocal qualities, the connection is quite weak and ultimately a disservice to the EELS, whom I’ve never found lacking in uniqueness. I won’t blame people who started with Beck first from finding similarities. Because Beck works with texture and sample so much it’s easy to hear similar stylings riding on top of the EELS music. But going the other direction, as I doubt many critics have, I’ve found the comparison much harder to find. The heart of the EELS music to me is in solid irresistible melodic foundations, which are here on Shootenany! in spades. By contrast, I think with Beck texture isn’t a superficial feature, as he embraces it as a much more fundamental part of his music. This more novel approach to song construction is probably what sparks the critics’ preference for him over the EELS. But Beck’s melodies, to me still the heart of any song, usually end up leaving me cold. One comparison I will grant is that both seem to use melodic repetition. By this I mean that both like to grab onto simple melodic progressions and hold them, using lyrical, instrumental, and dynamic changes to drive the music forward rather than melodic ones. Beck uses this repetition to groove, and while this is a more compelling argument for repetition than the EELS use (I’m not sure if there is one), it still usually grates on me by mid-song. With the EELS, there’s a lot more vulnerability to charges of boringness, but this is countered with initial melodies that are compelling enough to repeat throughout the whole song, dynamic or instrumental changes, or short song lengths. Where I think Beck succeeds and the EELS get tripped up, however, is on the lyrical front. Whereas Beck uses bizarre nonsensical imagery and weirdness to his advantage, adding to his cool “I don’t really give a sh*t” attitude and defining ‘90s culture, the EELS lack the same subtlety or attack. E’s lyrics, while initially endearing, often lose their punch after a while and the morbidity gets old. The man talks about how he might die tomorrow so much that it becomes like crying wolf, I just don’t believe it now. While I don’t think he has any pretensions of being ‘cool,’ his extremely direct approach to weirdness puts him out beyond both Beck and even Warren Zevon and way beyond the grasp of music critics. So I don’t think Shootenany! is a masterpiece in critical terms. If he wants that, ironically I think a movement in Beck’s direction, with the same strong melodic foundations, but more integrated texture and subtler, more serious rather than confessional weirdness might get him there. But this remains on heavy rotation with me and I strongly recommend it. Track favorites: Love of the Loveless, Lone Wolf, Numbered Days, Agony, and Good Old Days

Great CD

Downloaded this after trying their new album. This one is even better. Several catchy tunes that will have you bobbing your head and tapping your feet. For sure try "Loving the Loveless", "Dirty Girl" and "Rock Hard Times". -JP

Amazing

One of E's best works. Saturday Morning, Lone Wolf, Love of the Loveless and Dirty Girl are amazing. If you don't buy this, you are comprable to someone who has no taste in music!

Biography

Formed: 1995 in Los Angeles, CA

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Although Eels are often marketed as a full-fledged band, singer/songwriter E (real name: Mark Oliver Everett) is responsible for the group's sound and direction. Born in Virginia on April 9, 1963, Everett became interested in rock music at an early age via his sister's record collection, and began playing drums at the age of six, as well as tinkering on his family's piano. As the years progressed, Everett found himself leading a troubled teenage life, which was further complicated by his father's...
Full Bio

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