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A triumphant return
on 13 December 2003
I'm an Eels fan, I'd better get that off my chest before I begin. This doesn't mean that I'm biased towards them, but rather that, like most Eels fans, I'm inclined to be pessimistic that any new album is unlikely to match up to previous offerings.
However, in the case of Shootenanny! my first impression is that it is a masterpiece to rank alongside Beautiful Freak and Electro-Shock Blues (an album which the Melody Maker derided as unlistenable and then promptly and amusingly went bust). The subject matter of the new album still relates and appeals to the outsider in society, but the music reverts to the melodic pop/rock of Beautiful Freak.
A melancholic, bluesy influence is apparent in the tracks All In A Day’s Work, Agony and Restraining Order Blues, with its repeated plea, "Everybody knows that I'm not a violent man", contrasting with the touching poignancy of the most beautifully realised song on the album, Numbered Days (the equivalent, if you like, to Manchild on Beautiful Freak).
As for Saturday Morning, E has not created a more wide-eyed, childlike, magical vision of the world since Tomorrow I'll Be Nine on his solo album Broken Toy Shop. The Good Old Days is another throwback to E's solo material, exhibiting a gentle world-weariness, while the laid-back, funky Love Of The Loveless is the album's summer anthem. The dry humour which pervades the album is probably best exemplified by Fashion Awards, a satire on the fashion industry.
From the muso's point of view (and skip to the end of the paragraph if this is likely to bore you to death), Rock Hard Times is the most interesting track on the album. The descending bass line which provides the basis for the chorus is first played in the key of B-flat, and later in F, C and G. I don't know if there is a precedent for a song in which the chorus is stated on separate occasions in four different keys (something by Frank Zappa maybe?), but it's undoubtedly a striking innovation.
The final track, Somebody Loves You, is the happiest, most optimistic closing song on any Eels album to date, and its understated, downbeat last few bars constitute probably the most perfect ending to any album I have ever heard.
Only the uninitiated would deny that E has a serious claim to being the greatest singer-songwriter of his generation. In my mind, Shootenanny! is the album which cements this claim, and an album which is unlikely to be surpassed as the best of the year 2003. It is difficult to choose standout tracks, but the songs which I rate most highly are Saturday Morning, Agony, Rock Hard Times, Numbered Days and Somebody Loves You.
In short, it's a great time to be an Eel.