Eels - Electro-shock Blues
Anyone who knows a bit about Eels frontman Mark Everett (E) won't be surprised to learn that this album follows some of the darkest themes possible. E should have been on cloud nine following the critical and commercial success of previous album Beautiful Freak (including one of the standout tracks of the decade and as fine an intro as you'll ever hear in Novocaine for the Soul). Tragically it proved to be a time of unquantifiable loss as he lost his mother to terminal cancer and his sister took her own life. It goes without saying therefore that these events directly influenced Electro-Shock blues. What is surprising perhaps is that it is not as difficult a listen as one might expect. Eels continue to innovate on this album showing a novel aptitude for using strings and jurassic five style beats together to compliment the laid back delivery of the vocal. This works most effectively on 'My descent into madness' - a sublime track which sees the subject coming to terms with his own incarceration:
the jacket makes me straight so I can just sit back and bake
you know I think I'm gonna stay
talking very loud but no one hears a word I say
I'm not the first to draw comparison with Odelay era Beck and though this understandably lacks the same pop hooks that pepper the work of Mr Hansen (Beck not Alan). One of my favourite tracks is Hospital Food - a jazz infusion which would not look out of place on a B-52s album. Despite these two wonderful tracks I did find that the experimental style did not always effectively compliment the lyrics. A technique Eels have used to good effect before is the haunting use of childlike instrumentation but on an already bleak affair I found this added little merit to the album. To end on a positive - so does the album. It finishes with the album's finest moment - PS. I Love You, which is a redemptive song based around the central couplet; 'Everyone is dying; and maybe it's time to live'.
In many ways this album flys in the face of normal releases, there is no agenda for commercial success - this is song writing as therapy and I applaud E for doing so. However it is perhaps a reflection on me that I felt at times like I was intruding on private grief.
6 1/2 out of 10
The Courteeners - Falcon
I have only had two previous experiences of The Courteeners. One was on a weekend in Manchester in an Indie club where I was feeling upsettingly old as all around appeared to be yet to enter their twenties. A song came on that provoked exuberant scenes and I had no idea what it was. I was duly informed it was 'Not nineteen forever' by The Courteeners and I was impressed that a song could instigate such a response. The second experience was catching a short snippet of their T in the Park set this year on TV. Again, the crowd were relishing singing along to every word and I can honestly say I paid no attention to the actual music. This turns out to be for the best. On listening to Falcon it appears that the Courteeners have been bottled up from five years ago and let loose on the world today. Yes there are some clever lines but whereas I imagine the writer thinks he is rivalling the Arctic Monkeys the woeful Wombats would be a more apt comparison. I hope for their sake that they have developed a sterling live reputation as on record they are desperately lacking in any sort of imagination. Musically they are completely unadventurous - settling for plodding, lifeless generic indie background that recalls the barren days where garbage like The Datsuns were considered worthy of airplay. Lyrically the trick seems to be find a rhyming couplet, repeat ad nauseum and chuck in the odd reference to something uniquely English. It is as if they heard Alex Turner use the line 'Can I buy you a tropical reef?' and decide that was why the Arctic Monkeys debut was so wonderful. Whatever people say I am... was a dazzling, exhilirating album with Turner's lyrics masterfully capturing the social context in which they had grown up. By comparison The Courteeners are tired and laboured. The message really hit home on one of the final tracks which declared 'The good times are calling...' - so why does the singer sound so unbelievably bored! Oh that's right he's read his own lyrics. The good times were calling; the album was coming to a close although not without one final sting in the tail - I got a puncture.
2 out of 10.