I Want Some Hospital Food (01/01/99)
Eels, Electro-Shock Blues (Dreamworks 1998) - Talented pop musician Mark Oliver Everett (E) released two Beatles-influenced albums (including the fine debut, A Man Called E) which quickly sank from view.
Reinventing himself, E formed the band Eels with drummer Butch Norton and bass player Tommy Waller. (However, Waller does not appear on the new recording.) Eels debut album, Beautiful Freak, was a big seller and included the international hits, "Novacaine for the Soul" and "Susan's House."
Yet Electro-Shock Blues finds E making a huge step forward in musical vision and maturity. Following the death of two family members (including his sister, a depressive who had tried several times to take her own life), Electro-Shock Blues becomes a cohesive theme album focusing on death and E's ability to move beyond his misery/guts image.
Explains E, "The record is partly a tribute to my sister, but it is also my story, about how you can be in the middle of all this and come out the other end okay. Because it's quite a struggle, you know. It is pretty strange being the last member of your family."
Adds E, "Hopefully, I won't get overwhelmed, like I have done in the past. But I know that it's completely possible that I will. The point is that I am really trying not to have that happen."
E's new connection to life, tempered by his acceptance of death, is reflected on such songs as "Hospital Food," and "Last Stop: This Town," and "The Medication is Wearing Off." Joined by friends Grant Lee Phillips, Lisa Germano, and Jon Brion, Eels combine geek rock, techno, and pop to deliver a coherent and filling whole.
One of the year's most thoughtful and thought-provoking albums, Electro-Shock Blues deserves to be heard by a wide audience.
Flat Duo Jets, Lucky Eye (Outpost 1998) - Having released eight indie records during a 14-year career, the Flat Duo Jets are well known in their homebase of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. On Lucky Eye, the pair paints from a full palate, ranging from over-the-top rockabilly to pop to hip shakin' swing.
Flat Duo Jets consist of Dexter Romweber (vocals and guitar and piano), and Crowe (drums). Produced by Scott Litt (whose credits include R.E.M., Nirvana, and the Indigo Girls), the new album is broadened by horns (courtesy of the Squirrel Nut Zippers), bass (provided by Chris Stamey, formerly of the dB's), and additional guitar work by Eric Peterson.
Yet the core of Crowe and Dexter, with his amazing Silvertone guitar, are at the heart of Lucky Eye. While containing elements of folkabilly and surf, the Duos sound is a countrified Nick Cave - raunchy guitar work mixed with the deep voice of Dexter.
Thus, tracks like "Hustle 'n Bustle" and "Boogie Boogie" are all-night rockers, while the title track and "Dark Night" reflect a brooding rock sound.
Think of Dexter and Crowe as a twisted version of Toy Matinee, the talented pop pair consisting of the late Kevin Gilbert and Patrick Leonard. Fans of original rock 'n roll will enjoy Lucky Eye.
Blue Flannel, XL (Universal Records 1998) - Making their debut appearance is Blue Flannel, a four-piece outfit from Columbus, Georgia. With a sound that is filled by strings and full-blown studio arrangements, XL is not your usual rock/punk release.
The group named themselves "Blue Flannel" in parody of the burgeoning grunge scene, and embellish their songs with such un-grunge elements as kazoos and xylophones. Explains singer Derrick Coile, "It started out just for fun. Suddenly we were getting offers. We thought, 'Maybe we're onto something.'"
Continues Coile, "We're not just a rock band. We want to reach all types of people - young and old - from pop audiences to punk audiences. There's no reason we can't play a song straight one time, and then turn it into something entirely different the next."
The band includes David Montgomery on guitar, John Barry on bass, and Eric Talbott on drums. With tracks like "Animal Song" and "Unfair Comparison," XL has a rounded sound.
On the other hand, songs like "Havin' a Bad Day" carry on the best tradition of the Ramones, while "Sleepy Boy" lampoons a friend of the band who dozes off all the time.
With their unrestrained attitude, Blue Flannel should be a lot of fun in concert. Listen for the single, "Havin' a Bad Day," and enjoy XL.
- Randy Krbechek © 1999
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