The Eels were the first band released on mega-label Dreamworks Records with their album Beautiful Freak. An album that gathered considerable radio airplay and video rotation with it's hit "Novocaine For The Soul." Already it seemed that The Eels were making their place in the rock world by writing songs that not only had their own musical and production sound, but focused on the darker things - the yearning for numbness, the wrongness of neighborhood activities, shutting yourself in, and the overall feeling of being excluded. It wasn't grunge but it certainly seemed to appeal to that same depressed-for-no-reason demographic of the time.
In 1998, The Eels release Electro-Shock Blues - certainly proving that the songwriting skills and expression of honest emotion from Beautiful Freak was certainly not a fluke. The album takes the darker side of their debut LP and takes it one step further. This album most certainly was catharsis for a man who suffered great family tragedies (events that affect an individual for the rest of their lives). While not exactly a party mix, Electro-Shock Blues dug the hole deeper for the style of music that The Eels were expected to produce.
But then came the year 2000. Maybe it was the lack of the Rapture, or maybe it was the healing power of time, but Daisies Of The Galaxy showcased a new side of the Eels. While still carrying a darker tone, this album seemed more observational about the quirkiness of the world around you. The musical style was even more uplifting, the presence of horns, light acoustic guitars, and even the occasional xylophone. Sure, it had the occasional ESB styled introspection ("It's A Motherf#&!@r" and it's genius radio edit "It's A Monster Trucker") but this album seemed more like it was reflecting the way life itself is, happy ,yet concerned, with the occasional depression.
Souljacker was released in 2001 and showed another face of The Eels. It was bearded, holding a poodle, and bringing the rock. With the exception of a handful of tracks ("Woman Driving, Man Sleeping", "World Of Shit" Souljacker consisted of fun songs pertaining to observed characters. The darker, discontented, sound of The Eels seemed to have faded into the background. E was sampling himself (hey, who would sue in that situation?), collaborating with longtime pal John Parrish, and it seemed that he was showing that he didn't need all that silly introspection to write an enjoyable record.
And now we are given The Eels latest effort, Shootenanny!. Judging from the title, it's fairly obvious that the upbeat and more optimistic stylings of The Eels is contained within. Somewhat surprisingly, it seems that the stylings of the previous three albums are contained here. Rocking songs (though in alot cleaner style than Souljacker: i.e. "Saturday Morning", "All In A Days Work"), observational musings ("Wrong About Bobby", "Dirty Girl"), fictional situations (E assured me that the stalker subject matter of "Restraining Order Blues" was in no way autobiographical), the occasional introspective yet upbeat diddy ("Numbered Days","Love Of The Loveless"), and the stressed catharsis ("Agony").
The Eels have come a long way in their career. Beyond their officially released albums they've released two excellent live albums on their Dreamworks supported offshoot E-Works Records. E recently wrote the score for the film Levity as a test for himself to see how well he worked for others. And though he says he prefers working for himself, he would choose to listen to the soundtrack outcome out of all the Eels catalog. He also recently produced Capitol Records janitor and mix-man extraordinaire MC Honky - a relationship that has since degraded and proved more-so that maybe playing with others isn't the best route for E. They've been included on several movie soundtracks and do their best to keep their songs out of commercials, realizing that their songs mean something to someone, somewhere, and shouldn't be degraded by peddling a product (films are art afterall).
What lies in store for the future of The Eels? More than likely many many more albums, as E has said that he has at least 3 more albums written and partially recorded already. The stylings of Shootenanny! seem to reflect where E is in life, and where the Eels have come from. While obviously still pained by the events of his life (and what artist isn't? And if not, they should be.. pain makes music), the optimism level of The Eels has become more upfront and apparent.
The conversation between myself and E is gone, but the notion of his knowing that he has a great job - bringing music to the masses that have the good notion to appreciate it - and appreciates the skill he has been given in life were upfront. He's very personable even while doubting himself. And though he would have rather delved deep into the subject of hookers and drugs (he claims to have multiple grotto's of cavernous prostitute drug-laden enjoyment, in jest of course), he answered all my standard "journalist interviewing E" questions. I look forward to whatever plans E has to execute for The Eels.