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A Secret Garden
on 31 August 2003
I am forever indebted to Maisie for being enthusiastic enough to sufficiently persuade my subconscience to firstly pick this out of a crowded record store rack and secondly buy it. The short review ends here: it's utterly flawless, buy it now.
Shy and flirtatious, the record is most immediately striking in its peculiar mix of the odd and the impenetrable. Give it time though, and like a friend becoming more open the tunes come out to play in all the sunshine of a pop record. From behind the daunting veneer of E's eclecticism (the record encompasses ska, hip hop and tom waits-style odes to the oddball with seamless cohesion) there emerges, with time, a secret garden of some of the most beautiful music put on record in the last ten years.
On the opening and title tracks E manages to chronicle his sister's suicide with the kind of semi-detached intimacy that steers Sylvia Plath's 'The Bell Jar' away from trite self-pity and into something genuinely harrowing and affecting. It's like watching a car crash - terrible and private in its horror, yet somehow seductive in its explicit beauty. Even at its most desperate, Electro-Shock Blues is as addictive as hell.
The events that would inspire much of the album (The suicide of E's sister and his mother's terminal illness) are perfectly balanced in the closing PS You Rock My World. What can you say about this song? From the very abyss of despair comes a hope like the thread of light from beneath a cell door, a hope that moves to tears, shivers and near nausea. If the previous 40 minutes of Electro Shock Blues are spent emptying your soul to the very last drop, its final three are spent pouring back sweet, hair-on-end affirmation of life itself. Sometimes words are just so inadequate, aren't they?
Still, in between the harrowing and the beautiful is some of the most infectious, contagious music I have ever heard. From the strutting ska of Hospital Food (a thinly disguised rewrite of Squeeze's 'Cool For Cats') to the insane stalling mosh of 'Last Stop: This Town' and the slight, low-key humour of 'Baby Genius' 'Electro-Shock Blues' is an embarrassment of riches. Really, there isn't a duff track on here.
The fact that I am already looking forward tomorrow to throwing my hard-earned student rate cash at the remaining Eels albums is testament enough. You really would struggle to find a more worthy purchase on this entire website.