Top positive review
25 people found this helpful
on 30 October 2003
Persistent though the comparisons between E and Tom Waits remain, they are not the most obvious. Certainly the true gift of both is an unparalleled ability to craft truly beautiful songs from the raw materials of banality and human nature - the power to create something extraordinary from ordinariness itself. This record is an essential purchase for one reason: the closing track is perhaps the saddest song ever written. A parting of ways between between lovers, parents and child, friends - who exactly is irrelevant - 'You'll Be the Scarecrow' eulogises the past and ponders the future (E questions the finite nature of life ['there may not be a day for us'] with so much throaty heartbreak you genuinely believe there are tears in his eyes) with an everyday sadness and acceptance of mortality that is gut-wrenching. To reflect the unassuming sadness of daily existence is not to be depressive, but deeply beautiful - both heartbreaking and life-affirming.
Similarly, the slight 'Mockingbird Franklin' is 'Invitation to the Blues' for teenagers - a love song of sorts that is sad because of its ordinary melancholy, not because it was engineered to be so. Essentially, it's a prototype 'Beautiful Freak' but still as sweet and unique as its subject.
The other great link between Waits and E is the truly breathtaking knack of hiding the most shy, memorable melodies behind an iron curtain of initially impenetrable experimentation. Here is where E's first solo outing falls behind his later Eels material. A Man Called E is something of a straight ball, often sounding uncannily like mid-period R.E.M. Nothing wrong with this of course, as like R.E.M. E manages to write pop tunes that are both accessible and intelligent ('Fitting In With the Misfits', 'Looking Out the Window with A Blue Hat On') without ever being trite or irritating. It does mean, however, that the album is somewhat more lightweight than any Eels album, a problem substantiated by an indecently short running time of about half-an-hour. It is also a little too upfront, lacking the shy eccentricies that make Eels albums so compelling.
All in all, this record is an essential purchase for the mastery of 'You'll be The Scarecrow' alone. This track, along with sparodic glimmers of genius on this record, is the earliest evidence that by the end of the 1900s E would join Tom Waits as the most endearingly unique and eccentric musician in the world.