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Shootenanny in the Middle of the Road

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Someone once said that great art comes from suffering. Mark Oliver Everett, also known as E, has done his share of it, but on the new Eels album Shootenanny! his pain seems more forced these days.

Take the song “Agony” for instance in which E utters the redundant lyrics, “am I going to be all right?/no, I’m not going to be all right” channeling bad Bob Dylan. Sure, the production is adequate, but the genuine angst of 1998’s Electro-Shock Blues is absent, and the self-piteous whining about growing old is simply annoying.

The Eels are basically a vehicle for E’s musical abilities. This time around, he had help on this release from Kool G Murder, James King, and Lisa Germano to name a few.

That assistance seemed to be put to good use on the more positive tracks, such as “Saturday Morning” — a catchy number about waking up early when you’re a kid and the parents are still asleep. E threw in a little of his signature falsetto in it for variety, and it is a truly enjoyable piece of power pop. Also a good tune was “Love of the Loveless” in which E asserts his bad-ass-nerd side by proclaiming, “ Don’t got a lot a time/don’t give a damn/don’t tell me what to do/I am the man.”

“Restraining order Blues,” a sweet country ballad, includes the lyrics “everybody knows that I’m not a violent man/just someone who knows he’s in love” didn’t make it clear whether E’s intention was to be irreverent or not. My guess is that he probably was, but either way, the song just wasn’t amazing.

Some of Shootenanny! I didn’t quite fathom. On “Rock Hard times” with the lines “I don’t what it is they’re trying to do to me/make me into some sick joke/but no one’s laughing at least of all not me/it’s hard to laugh as you choke,” I wondered whether E was addressing his image or the economy. Although it’s an entertaining country-rock fluff piece, I still wished for more edgy numbers I had enjoyed in the past such as “Cancer for the Cure.”

Probably the biggest clunker on this release was “Wrong about Bobby.” This song appears to be about how E had misconceptions about his friend Bobby, but he’s so vague it’s difficult to determine what he’s trying to say. The fact that E still has issues with Bobby by the end of the song doesn’t really clear up the issue. With the lyrics “you gotta give it up for the new modern man,” I suspect E was attempting to be cute again, but it just appeared forced.

All in all, this is an entertaining album full of country blues, but it falls short of work E has done in the past. It seems that E has gone more mainstream with radio-friendly pop on this one. I think if he is going to stick with this, he should avoid the psuedo-depressing songs, and the confusing stabs at irony.

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About Jane

  • http://www.unproductivity.com Tom Johnson

    You summed up what I’ve been feeling about this album since I picked it up the day it came out. I know Eels fans tend to pan Souljacker, but I thought that was a fun compromise of humor and depth without being depressing. This album just doesn’t work very well for me. I always find myself turning to Daisies Of The Galaxy when I want good Eels. E seemed to get everything right on that one, for me.

  • Jane Ripley

    I found Electro-Shock Blues to be E’s finest hour. I liked that it was about all that death and loss he went through, but he’s hopeful at the end of the album.
    This new release is far too poppy for me, and I’m sure he can do better in the future (lets hope so).

  • twisted

    A very astute and well written review. I think this person will go far in the business of music criticism. Bravo!!!

  • jane ripley

    Thanks Mr. Twisted. :-)