Review Summary: Maybe it's time to live.
Eels - Electro-Shock Blues
"Let me lie on your heart like snow;
Cool and apart
For a moment . . . so . . .
Before the flames start
And the snow melts
And the waters flow
And beneath your lips
Crack the old, eternal,
Impatient whips. . ."
Heaven knows great works come from personal tragedy, turmoil and suffering. A more profound, affecting and altogether interesting emotion than mere angst, turmoil forces some of the most beautiful, sublime and terrible artistic expression out of a human soul.
Electro-shock blues is a beautiful, terrible scream to the heavens. Creative, cynical, optimistic and mournful, it well-deserves its place at the forefront of Eels' work. Some may call it excessively dark, but I see it as a beautiful concept album about learning to deal with disease and death. I'll leave out the particulars, but the timeframe of this album found frontman E at a difficult period in his life.
And out sprang this album. Opener track "Elizabeth on the bathroom floor" begins with the following words: "Laying on the bathroom floor / kitty licks my cheek once more / And I, I could try / But waking up is harder when you wanna die. . ." Hardly the Beach Boys, but, in his crude little way, E and his group tap into a richer reserve of emotion. Throughout the album's main themes of sickness ("Cancer For the Cure"), death ("Going to Your Funeral" Parts I and II, hospitalization ("Hospital Food") and insanity (cheery "My Descent Into Madness", "3 Speed", "Electro-Shock Blues"), the album chronicles the efforts of a man to come to terms with mortality in the face of fatalism, sadness and loss while trying to find himself and his desire to live.
The music is wildly interesting and experimental. From the moment I heard the wonderful major-key transition in "Going To Your Funeral, Part I" I was a convert. Subtler guitar numbers dot the album, providing crucial balance for the rest of the album: the boppy, faux-industral, 60s-style bopper "Cancer For the Cure", classical string accompaniment of "My Descent Into Madness", and the wonderful, subtle, unconfident music box-accompanied title track. This is a very full album.
And it's not all soul-shattering despair, either. Even at its worse, the album's lyrics reveal a certain sense of humor. Among my favorites:
"Life is funny, but not ha ha funny / peculiar I guess. . ."
"Hate a lot of things / but I love a few things / and you are one of them. . ."
Following the rich instrumental "Going To Your Funeral, Part II", the album changes tone abruptly. "Last Stop: This Town" is a catchy, optimistic, almost silly take on grieving. As strange as this sounds, the instrumentation in this track is unparalleled, especially when it breaks apart. Mixing ghetto-blaster beats with an angelic choir and church bells is no mean feat. Eels does it every time.
The second half is more serene, to balance the darker offerings of the first half. Gorillaz knew how to do it as well with their 2005 album "Demon Days". The band nails the resolution on this album and creates a satisfied, content feeling.
After all is said and done, the album ends on an beautiful, life-affirming note, in stark contrast to the album's bleak opening moments: "I was at a funeral the day I realized / I wanted to spend my life with you / Sitting down on the steps at the old post office / The flag was flying at half-mast . ."
And: "And I was thinkin' 'bout how everyone is dying / And maybe it's time to live. . ."
Pick this one up. Nearly ten years later, this one stands the test of time.
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