To get your attention, let’s begin with my favorite E story. A few years ago he was asked to provide a quote for the dust jacket to Kurt Cobain’s posthumously published diaries. He complied, providing this quote: “Please don’t do this to me after I kill myself.” Needless to say, the blurb wasn’t used. Still, it helps provide a glimpse into the mind of a man called E.
But let’s go back to the beginning, at least for me. I guess it started with the voice. Soulful, sad, carrying with it a kind of a plaintive desperation if you will. A friend of mine (’twas a man called Goose, a legend in his own right) had given me a mix tape that had “Susan’s House” on it back in 1996 and I was instantly intrigued. So began my introduction and fascination with E and his group, the Eels.
For those in the know, the Eels are essentially one man, the aforementioned E, whose given name is Mark Oliver Everett. E plays piano, guitar, drums, and virtually every other instrument you can think of. He’s known critically for his innovative combination of instruments and musical styles. He’s had his share of traumatic life events to say the least. He found his father dead in his bed when he was 19. His sister, who he was very close to, committed suicide in 1996, and his mother lost a long battle to cancer in 1998. He also lost several close friends during this time. Enough you say? Not quite. His cousin, Jennifer Lewis née Gore, was a flight attendant on the plane that struck the Pentagon during the September 11, 2001 attacks. So, E is the last surviving member of his family. The tragedies in his life have contributed to his musical style that includes mortality’s toll, mental illness, and loneliness. And as I said, the mournful, hoarse voice lends itself perfectly to his lyrics and musical tone. Not to fear though, his catalog includes upbeat and uplifting songs as well, a lot focusing on survival. As he sings on E’s Tune:
Life’s just an ugly mess,
The angry souls in such distress,
But there’s a time when moments can be sweet,
And it feels like someone’s smiling down on me.
Sometimes it feels like I’m all alone,
(Most of the time actually I am alone)
That’s all right, don’t give up now I’m almost there.
Never fear though, as Everett can rock with the best of them. If proof is needed, check out Souljacker Part 1, Rags to Rags, or Saturday Morning. If you’re worried that E’s stuff lacks an edge, give a listen to It’s a Motherfucker, not to be confused with Fucker. The former is an angst-filled homage to his dead mother (I’m not kidding), the latter a whimsical look at an ex-girlfriend (wait for the surprise ending).
Interesting tidbit – E’s dad was Hugh Everett III. He was a mathematician and quantum theorist, notable for formulating the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics in 1957. You know, parallel universes and whatnot. Let’s just say a dummy he wasn’t. E, on the other hand, flunked freshman Math. He channeled his talents in another direction.
E’s early work included two solo albums, A Man Called E (1992) and Broken Toy Shop (1993). The latter were finely crafted pop gems unleashed in the middle of the grunge uprising, thus they went basically unnoticed. They were also recorded before E’s loss of his mom and sister so they are certainly lighter in mood. Note: E also released an independent album in 1985 called Bad Dude in Love, which I’m currently trying to locate on the interweb. When I find it you’ll have a full review.
After those two early albums E formed the Eels. He chose the name Eels because he wanted his “E” work to sit beside his “Eels” work in the CD bin at the record stores. Only later did he realize groups like The Eagles would separate the two. Oops. The Eels discography includes ‘Beautiful Freak” (great album cover) (1996), “Electro-Shock Blues” (1998), “Daisies of the Galaxy” (2000), “Souljacker” (2002), “Shootenanny!” (2003), “Blinking Lights and Other Revelations” (2005), Hombre Lobo (2009), End Times (2010) and Tomorrow Morning (2010). Some notes on each, for your perusal:
- “Beautiful Freak” – Includes the singles “Novacaine for the Soul“, “Susan’s House” and “Your Lucky Day in Hell“. The album is influenced by several musical styles, including grunge and hip-hop. A smooth and flawless studio recording.
- “Electro-Shock Blues” – This album deals with a lot of pleasant subjects including suicide, death, and cancer. It’s a very dark album. I mean, with songs like “Elizabeth on the Bathroom Floor”, “Going to Your Funeral”, and “The Medication is Wearing Off”, how could it not be? Still, incredible stuff, with some unbelievable black humor. An album straight from E’s broken heart.
- “Daisies of the Galaxy” – If you’re going to buy one Eels album, this would be the one to get in my opinion. As E stated, “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.” Great album that includes the hidden track “Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues”. You know, the one with the lyric “Goddamn right it’s a beautiful day.” That one. Another cool tidbit – the piano E used on this album was the same one Neil Young used on “After the Gold Rush.” Sweet.
- “Souljacker” – Definitely a heavier feel and more rock-orientated sound on this one. The opening song, “Souljacker, Part 1” is apparently about a serial killer, as E sings, “22 miles of hard road, 33 years of tough luck, 44 skulls buried in the ground, Crawling down through the muck, Oh yeah.” To lighten things up, the song also includes lyrics about incest and a kid planning to kill people at his school. Cool. Check out “Dog-Faced Boy” as well.
- “Shootenanny” – E stated that there needed to be a word to describe the act of when a guy goes on a shooting rampage. His suggestion was to say the guy went on a “shootenanny”. What can I say, the man’s brain is in a different place. Again, the album is a little rougher, possibly because it was recorded in only 10-days. A personal favorite? An absolute gem called “Rock Hard Times.”
- “Blinking Lights and Other Revelations” – The Eels first double album, it contained 33 tracks and featured contributions from Tom Waits, Peter Buck of R.E.M. and ex-Lovin’ Spoonful leader John Sebastian. A highlight is Wait’s crying like a baby on the song “Going Fetal.” Trust me, you gotta hear it to truly appreciate it. The Alternative Press said of the album, “A devastatingly beautiful collection of songs, and in some circles, it could be the best album released this year.” And how about this from Entertainment Weekly, “Everett finally delivers the absolute stone masterpiece fans have always known lurked inside his dour heart.” I know, I know, it’s Entertainment Weekly. But still . . .
- “Hombre Lobo” – Hombre Lobo is desribed as a “concept album about desire.” Long story, but it was also inspired by E’s facial hair. Like I said, long story. I also might add that the album is about a werewolf. I kid you not. Anywho, this album has more of a stripped-down feel than his previous stuff, and as always it’s solid work. Having said that, my favorite song is probably “My Timing is Off“, a mellower tune. If you want harder-edged stuff, lend an ear to ‘Prizefighter” or “Tremendous Dynamite.”
- “End Times” – This album centers around divorce and aging. I know, not exactly uplifting themes, huh? Having said that, my favorite song on the album is “Little Bird“, an achingly sad song about, well, a little bird . . . and another love lost.
- “Tomorrow Morning” – This CD actually has a more uplifting feel to it, rare for my boy E. Let’s face it, optimistic he usually ain’t. For a sampling, give a listen to “Spectacular Girl” or “The Man.”
The Eels released a few other albums, including the live “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” and “Eels With Strings” as well as an E offshoot album “I Am the Messiah” that he recorded under the name MC Honky. That one was an experience in experimentation that needs to be heard to comprehend because I can‘t begin to describe it. Give a listen to “Like a Duck” for a crazy-ass sampling. There’s also a compilation CD called “Essential Eels – Meet the Eels” that I would pass on if I were you. Instead let me make a 4-CD Super Mix for ya.
You can click here to see the band’s official website. Also, there was BBC documentary about E and his father (E is huge in England) called “Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives” that you can see a snippet of on YouTube.
Well, there you go. A little background on my favorite band of the 90’s, 00’s, and 10’s. I hope you learned a little and might just give The Eels a listen and a chance. As I mentioned, I will happily burn for anyone who asks an Eels Mix. I’m always eager to spread the word.
*Random Encounter: I was in Cleveland to catch The Eels at The Odeon, and I was cruising down the street in a cab that afternoon. Suddenly, a buddy of mine said, “Hey, is that him?” “Who?”, I wittily asked. “E”, he said. Well, it sure enough was. He was walking down the sidewalk, hoodie over his head, head down, all by his lonesome. I ordered the cab to stop, jumped out, and ran up to him, scaring the living hell out of him in the process (I can be just a little scary if you don‘t know my sparkling and engaging personality). After he realized I wasn’t a madman, we had a short and pleasant conversation. Again, a nice moment for me.