Eels/They Might Be Giants

EELS: SOULJACKER (Dreamworks)
THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS: MINK CAR (Restless)

You might look at this and think “what an odd twosome.” Or you may think I am just covering some favorites. You might be right on the former, but I think the two do go together. Over the last seven years, Eels have produced some fantastic music, including Electro-Shock Blues and Daisies of the Galaxy. E, their founding voice and resident abnormal, had put out two solo albums in the early ’90s. In finding musician extraordinaire Butch Norton, he had the ideal accompanist for his absurdist songs. On Souljacker, they expand the circle, bringing in John Parish of PJ Harvey fame to help with production and a variety of instruments. During a recent appearance on NPR’s “Sounds Eclectic,” E told host Nic Harcourt he has all the songs in his head, waiting for the right album to come along. Souljacker proves that Eels have found their time and found their album. And what a fine and sonically intent album it is.

It doesn’t find its way into your consciousness with oft-repeated lines that you can’t get out of your head ’til you hear that irritating car ad or the 93X sounder. Eels give you palatial thoughts, moody reveries, and visuals that will survive the onslaught of your day. “Woman Driving, Man Sleeping” is one of those types of songs. It doesn’t get in your face like several of the other songs on the album (which they do perfectly). It sets up a scenario, lulls you in, and before you know it, you are in that car, you are in that life.

E doesn’t expect you to be a casual listener. I think he gives people who buy Eels records a great deal of credit and expects much in return. The back of the CD has a label that says “IMPORTANT. This compact disc can be played on any compact disc player.” At first I thought it was one of those irritating CDs that forces you to link up to a website and endlessly screws up your computer, but, no, Eels are just making a comment: music is for the imagination. (That said, they do have a great web site: www.eeltheband.com.) They give you things to think about and expect a book report in the morning. Stick with this book. It is worth it.

They Might Be Giants have been a constant on the scene for 20 years. Twenty years! Not only does this make me feel old, but it makes me feel good. A new Giants album is like seeing a friend who is good to talk with—how rare that is. This is not your usual “Hey, did you see that story in the paper”-type friend. This is someone who comes with stories. Interesting stories.

About 65 percent of Mink Car is filled with these wonderful, off-beat songs about things that nobody, nobody has ever thought to put in a rock song. One, “My Man,” is a conversation a man is having with his lower limbs after he finds he is paralyzed. “Another First Kiss” is not the love song that it appears to be; it is the thoughts of a person leaving a relationship, wishing again for the magic of that first kiss. “Drink” is a rousing sea shanty that is ideal for…well, drinking. However, it really looks at the sadness of alcoholics and the public’s seeming indifference to the problem. The song succinctly sums up the situation with the line: “Drink! Drink! ’Cause it’s never to late to drink! Drink! To no big surprise—but what word rhymes with buried alive?”

Both albums contain great songs that really open up a door in your head and make listening to music a challenging and enriching experience. However, here is my gripe about both CDs: both bands seem to pull back from time to time, like they are nervous about being seen as too smart or too in touch with their emotions. Therefore, we get songs like “Cyclops Rock” and “I’ve Got a Fang” from TMBG and “Teenage Witch” and “Dog Faced Boy” from Eels (the latter of which does contain a guilty pleasure lyric content due to the line, “Ma won’t shave me, Jesus can’t save me, dog faced boy”). Both these bands have put out amazing albums and neither of these new offerings are missing the mark by much; they are simply throwing in a few chestnuts to appeal to a growing audience.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply