Some of the most moving movements of Eels’ frontman Mark Everett’s very engaging autobiography surround the motivations for this album.
Everett has not had the most blessed of lives (despite his musical fortunes), and between his breakout Beautiful Freak album and this followup, his sister committed suicide and he nursed his mum through failed cancer treatment.
Left the only survivor in his immediate family, he turned to songwriting as therapy.
That may sound like a recipe for a maudlin self-indulgent album. Fortunately Everett’s mourning and contemplations come with a big dollop of pop sensibility (consciously or otherwise).
Here we get fascinating and touching vignettes about the horrors of chemotherapy and the awkwardness and futility of funerals, of helplessness and anger at his sister and at life. He spits (rocking) vitriol at Hospital Food and at cancer. He cribs from his sister’s diary and contemplates posthumous meetings and conversations.
This is songwriting as story-telling in a riveting way, and with a sense also for the absurdity of life.
The scariest (but not surprising) aspect of Everett’s recollections of this album’s creation is the sheer insensitivity and stupidity of his record company. They thought this would be a traincrash of a release. It isn’t. It’s a beautiful, precious piece of art.
File under: Good mourning
When this album popped up out of nowhere back in 1996, the Eels’ big hit singles got lumped in alongside other quirky reimaginings of grunge from Cake and the Butthole Surfers. It had to do with the mix of spoken vocals, power chords and electronica.
It’s a shame because there is a lot more depth and subtlety to the Eels’ work. Mark Everett is a thoughtful and provocative songwriter. He bares his soul (at times) and has a slightly morose or disappointed take on the world he sees around them.
These themes permeate the breakout track, here Susan’s House:
In many ways, this is a more subdued and literal version of Beck‘s more electronic output. Everett (for this is pretty much him with a couple of buddies tagging along), doesn’t show off in the same that Back does, nor is he as deliberately obtuse.
There is a lot to like on here. Novocaine for the Soul is poppy yet dark. The title track is a sweet lament around the impact of mental illness (as is Mental).
I recently read Everett’s fascinating and touching autobiography “Things the Grandchildren Should Know“. I highly recommend it, with this and his other albums paying along in the background.
File under: Seek out some Freak
After yesterday’s dullness, it was certainly refreshing to embrace the energy and oomph of today’s CD.
Instead of cardigan-wearing artiness, here is some unpretentious garage punk of the highest order.
There is a fine tradition in Australia of Stooges-like rock’n’roll. My personal favourite has always been Radio Birdman, but others swear by The Saints and even Nick Cave‘s early incarnations.
The trio of Current lads plus Brendan Suppression (I think these might not be the names their parents gave them) deliver exactly what you’d hope. Trebly guitar, pounding drums and slurry bass, plus vocals that sound like that Iggy doing a Cosmic Psychos impression.
The songs come across wonderfully naive and ad-libbed (and reportedly several were). The audio mix is garagey without being tinny.
This album got a lot of people excited when it was released. It got me excited on my walk to work this (Monday) morning and kept me going all morning. I felt transplanted back to a much simpler time, when Colour Television was worth singing about and when wearing a black glove on stage made you a popstar:
File under: Smell the glove
I have spent the past four hours doing some mind-numbingly boring data entry stuff for a research project.
While doing so I had this third album from Easton playing away.
Unfortunately, it did nothing at all to alleviate the boredom.
It did distract me a number of times, as I was convinced my iPod was having drama and playing the same track repeatedly. That was the case early on, but from then on the issue lay with the recording itself.
Easton seems to have jettisoned any attempt at creativity, and instead has written six tunes that sound pretty much the same (plus 3 little instrumental segues). I’m not quite sure this even qualifies as an album.
The track themselves are all slow, vocal and guitar efforts. There isn’t much energy or oomph.
Perhaps, Richard conceived of this as a concept album of sorts.
I don’t get it.
File under: From here to the bin
After his low-key but promising debut, Mr Easton trekked east to Melbourne and joined the Candle Records album.
He brought with him this more fully formed follow-up. While it still ain’t exactly AC-DC in terms of aural mass, a lot of the empty spaces have been filled. The new sounds are atmospheric additions, such as strings.
It means a bit more of the soft-loud-soft rhythms than previously.
Easton has got more ambitious in his song-writing too. Here’s where the Candle appeal is most obvious, as he taps into the ‘everyday adventures’ and sardonic melancholy schtick.
When he gets it right it is very good. Wake Up captures the uncertainty and the ebb and flow of a nascent love in five minutes. Indeed, it may the best ode to a girl named Kelly since Woody serenaded said female on Cheers:
When Rich gets lazy it is woeful, however. His whistling cover of Big Country is painful twaddle.
File under: Whistling’s lame mm’kay
So my better half is off in Adelaide for work for a couple of days. While there she’s managing to catch The Gossip playing the side show they haven’t deigned to bless Melbourne with.
I am at home frantically trying to get through a backlog of subject preparation before uni starts again. What better way to perk up this pretty miserable Thursday night, than with some spinning blue vinyl from the Black Diamond Heavies?
I picked this limited edition LP up a few months back. It was recorded at a show in some Kentucky Masonic Lodge.
It doesn’t contain much in the way of new material, and certainly no new sound. The vibe is still filthy, garage, funk blues. The voice is gravelly, the drums are pounding, that cocaine is still causing troubles.
Somehow the recording quality of this release is better than their earlier studio efforts. The result is oh so seductive and inspiring. In particular I want to see these guys live again… c’mon down lads:
File under: It’s great to be alive
This is the debut long-player from a Perth bloke with a pretty sweet voice, and a solid bunch of backing musicians.
Easton went on to record for the auspicious Candle label, but his sound was pretty much in place with this release.
He isn’t as acoustic or poppy as his Candle brethren. If anything, he’s closer to the jangly guitar of fellow Perthites The Church and The Stems, although he doesn’t quite have their pop sensibilities either.
This is pretty mellow, contemplative stuff. The lyrical content is pretty standard fare (that little issue of love etc.), although Easton does a good job of making the everyday seem a little more familiar and magical at the same day. His tribute to the Sandman panel van is probably not what most bogans would be expecting. His tirade against the plant in the album title is strident and reminiscent of some of my recent gardening adventures.
The guitar work is effective, and the gentle sundry sounds (bass, some keyboards/organ/accordion) envelope and complement his voice very warmly.
There aint much on here that jumps out and grabs your attention, but likewise, it gels together neatly. I’ve enjoyed having it wash over me as I’ve worked away today.
File under: Aromatic and pretty (but avoid skin contact with the sap and thorns)
Sorry for the lull in my reviewing. I was over in South Australia for a few days sans my iPhone headphones.
As a result I was stuck with that folk standard Bound for South Australia rattling around my head. There is something slighly apt with that choice, as Steve Earle has definitely got folkier over the years.
This collection of tracks sees mandolin and plenty aplenty, and more tunes about the bountiful charms of Irish womenfolk (this time a Galway Girl).
The album is a pretty strong compadré to the mighty El Corazón, but doesn’t quite hit those heights. It is a slightly more morose effort, with more subdued slower efforts.
Earle does tend to spoil his listeners, and one can get blasé about the subtletly and beauty of his songwriting and performances.
I had the pleasure of catching the sobered up, portly ’00s version of Earle live in Byron Bay a few years ago (and was also too timid to have a chat to him when I spied him alone in a pub with a soda and book) and he was a consumate performer.
…although perhaps not up to The Dubliners standard!
File under: Not Transvision Vamp
Steve Earle does like his genre jumps. He’s not a complete chameleon and he doesn’t venture too far, but he does transform considerably within the ‘roots’ domain.
Here he justifies his facial hair with a deep dive into the world of bluegrass and general folkiness.
He teams up with McCoury crew, a posse of slack-jawed fiddlers, banjoists and tin-whistlerians.
These yokels (for I envisage them as Cletus from The Simpsons and his inbred clan) strum up a storm. It’s like one big barndance.
Steve holds nothing back, embracing all the genre’s B-roll of imagery. Look kiddies, there’s an Irish immigrant…and a miner’s miserable life… And an alluring lass breaking a farmboy’s heart and leading him a hanging death.
I’m a sucker for a tune about steam trains. And this set kicks off with one. Yeeee Haaaaa.
File under: Get ya yokel vocals here folks