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CD Reviews:  Eels: Shootenanny


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"When I was born the doctor said, there's something wrong inside that baby head," Eels brainchild Mark "E" Everett snarls in the opening stanza of "All in a Day's Work," as the slow and deliberate drudge of bluesy, Beck-like musicianship plays escort. With that, the latest work of art, Shootenanny!, unfolds and we're introduced to the fresh new lessons of pain and loathing from Everett and company, though this time wrapped in sweet, crackling pop melodies. There's no evidence here of the Eels glum 1998 offering, Electro-Shock Blues, nor is there any trace of the sedate Beautiful Freak from 1996. Nope, not here. This Eels submission is all about a brighter, more frolicking state of depression. The outcome is a blissful gathering of unsoiled ditties, well scripted for an outdoor summer evening amongst friends.

The wispy "The Good Old Days," even with its sleepier tempo, manages to lift a spirit. But the sonic guitar fest that elevates the first hit "Saturday Morning" is impossible to ignore. This is great stuff, the kind of exaggerated alt-rock achievement we've come to expect from peers Soul Coughing, Weezer, and again, Beck, but until now only hoped would ooze from an Eels outing. "Don't got a lot of time, don't give a damn. Don't tell me what to do, I am the man," Everett warns playfully on "Love of the Loveless," an ode to earlier songs like "Last Stop This Town." The drab "Restraining Order Blues" and "Fashion Awards" do little to derail this pristine endeavor, especially with intermittent dashes of brilliances like "Dirty Girl."

Let's get one thing straight: Shootenanny! is less an Eels group project and more an awe-inspiring Mark Everett solo record. Semantics aside, the music holds up to any litmus test, the songwriting is unmarked and ultra-unique, and the delivery is vast. Previous Eels albums have fallen victim to having a song or two that really lit a fire, but the top-to-bottom value wasn't there. On Shootenanny! that mold gets shattered and a career gets defined. Everett has traded in his staple glass-is-half-empty perspective for a more welcomed vow, and as a result has pounded out one of 2003's paramount moments. Smile, E, or at least smirk, for you have earned it!

~Red Rocker

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