07 November, 2008

“Electro-Shock Blues”

8th November 2008

I would not usually devote a chapter to an album, but Electro-Shock Blues is a notable exception. This is the album by which I discovered The Eels, who still remain one of my favourite bands of all time, and certainly among the best of them. I kid you not, The Eels have remained excellent since their beginning. Each album has been different, yet uniquely their own. Sometimes experimental, sometimes traditional, sometimes simple and bare, sometimes elaborate and sharp.

Electro-Shock Blues came out in 1998. It is The Eels’ second album, after Beautiful Freak. Following their intense success, E, the leader of the band (he does most of everything in the band), would come to face some tragedies in his life. His sister, Elizabeth, eventually gave up after a life-long struggle against depression, and committed suicide. His mother slowly died to cancer, leaving him as the sole remaining member of his family, his father having died in 1982. E was the first to discover the body of his father, a famous physicist who wrote letters with Einstein, no less. Friends of E also died, and other sad things.

The result of all these tragic events is that E decided to confront it with an album based on all of it, since he knew he wouldn’t be able to avoid it. Sixteen songs are to be found on that glorious album. Death, suicide, cancer, suffering, loss, psychiatric hospitals, electro-shocks, you’ll face all this and more. Yet, as gloomy as this may sound, the record is full of hope, and the album ends on “maybe it’s time to live,” because yes, one must live though life is tough.

The album is made of bits and pieces from E’s entire family: the booklet begins with a poem written by his grand-mother, or even great-grand-mother, I forget. Some of the artwork was made by sister and/or father, I forget the details exactly. The first song “Elizabether on the Bathroom Floor” is about Elizabether’s suicide, and I read that parts of the lyrics, if not all of them, were taken from her last diary entries. Many songs are about Elizabeth in some way or another. The album is dedicated to her.

The first songs are very dark, admittedly, but it lightens up later on. It doesn’t mean the subject matter is happier, but the songs are like... imagine a song that sounds happy, but has sad lyrics. That is a bit what the cover of this album is like, it looks cute and harmless at first sight, but when you know what it means, then there’s added sadness to this apparent happiness.

Electro-Shock Blues is a masterpiece on every level: the songs are epic, the lyrics are deep and poetic, and heart-wrenching. They’re like short stories, or have the density of them, at any rate. This album is like a novel indeed.

Here is the list of those terrific songs:

1) “Elizabeth on the Bathroom Floor”

2) “Going to your Funeral Part I”

3) “Cancer for the Cure”

4) “My Descent into Madness”

5) “3 Speed”

6) “Hospital Food”

7) “Electro-Shock Blues”

8) “Efils’ God”

9) “Going to your Funeral Part II”

10) “Last Stop: This Town”

11) “Baby Genius”

12) “Climbing up to the Moon”

13) “Ant Farm”

14) “Dead of Winter”

15) “The Medication Is Wearing Off”

16) “P.S. You Rock My World”

I could write enormously on each song, that’s how intense they all are, but I won’t, because I’d much rather you get your own relationship with them. And I couldn’t select pieces of lyrics to show you without showing you all of them.

If you’ve never heard The Eels before, what should I tell you? Well, before everything else, that you are missing out. Secondly, that The Eels are mostly traditional rock, except that E is not afraid to experiment with just about anything, which means some songs will be plain guitar and voice (and strings, often), or that there’ll be electro elements (but not enough to be called techno, by far not). The use of strings and other ambient instruments does add a very eerie feeling to this album. The Eels’ masterpiece will make you cry and smile and most of all it will make you feel alive.

Thank you for reading and I hope you will give Electro-Shock Blues a chance.

Here's the story of this album, from The Eels' own website.