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Eels – Beautiful Freak (1996)

May 22, 2014

[Album 313/1001]220px-Beautifulfreak

Novocaine for the Soul is the quintessential mid-90s single.

Along the quirky lines of Your WomanPepper, and other familiar songs that inevitably appeared on Big Shiny Tunes-esque compilations.

The kind of tunes that many will instantly recognize but fewer will remember the group name.  Current readership excluded of course: you folks have impressively encyclopaedic recollection abilities.  Bonus marks if you can identify who performed the aforementioned singles!

Fortunately, there is much more than just a catchy single on Beautiful Freak.

Critics may say its decade of origin isn’t hard to spot; I’ll concede that, but also argue that they were both behind & ahead of the times in 1996.

My Beloved Monster provides a case in point: in the very brief intro, it sounds like Eels found themselves ahead of the early 21st Century banjo revival.  By the end of the song, listeners have been taken down Dear Prudence lane.  All while retaining a fresh sound, deserving of the ‘alternative’ label.

My one caution: these guys are masters of what I’ll call the ‘lullaby hook.’  When used sparingly, it can be devastatingly effective, such as with the Everly Brothers‘s Always It’s You or Radiohead’s No Surprises.

When used frequently, the potential consequence is that the lullaby hooks might inadvertently end up doing exactly what lullabies are designed to do: soothe listeners to sleep.  Or be calming to the point of numbing, like the effect of Novocaine for the soul teeth at the Dentist’s office.

That being said, I’ll gladly take Beautiful Freak over a dental procedure any day!

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From → 1990s

25 Comments
  1. Maybe it’s because I was so anti-90’s during the 90’s, but I never liked Eels. I enjoy eating them, don’t get me wrong, but I never liked the band. Sorry!

    • Check this out…I went to look up Eels on YouTube because I don’t remember liking them either, but didn’t remember Novocaine. An ad for Tim Hortons came up first and watched that longer than the 10 seconds I spent on Novocaine. I heard the opening tinky music and thought, “yep, still don’t like them…”

      • HAHAH! I consider that awesome!

      • Less than 10 seconds, That doesn’t sound like a glowing review! That’s ok, I can see this being one of those groups that people generally feel one way or the other about. Maybe not quite to the polarizing extreme of more recent groups like Nickelback or genres like New Country, but that’s a different story altogether!

    • No personal offense taken – can’t say I’ve tried the food, so alas I can’t offer an opinion on eels as a menu item!

  2. Does that have ‘Lucky Day In Hell’ on it? I used to have that on a compilation CD that came with a magazine. Interestingly since you mention lullabies, it was one of my favourite CDs to go to sleep to, not ‘cos it’s boring, but ‘cos I find Eels quite calming. E has an endearingly bleak view of the world. It’s like, no matter how depressed you might be, you can be sure that he’s feeling worse! Always great lyrics…a unique band who I need to check out more.

    • That it does – it’s the second last track on the album.

      I tend to enjoy the contrast with the uplifting melody/bleak lyrics and that was definitely the case here on a lot of the songs.

      And agreed – people often wonder why I’m so optimistic, it’s because I listen to groups like eels, they provide some perspective of how bad things could be!

  3. As I just said on another blog, Eels are one of those bands that I want to like more than I actually do. I love some of their stuff, have all the albums but can’t ever listen to more than a handful of songs before moving on to something else. A bit like Beck in that regard.

    • It’s funny you mention Beck – he also had a song novocane in 1996.

      I was going to compare Beautiful Freak to the quirkiness of Odelay but I thought I’d been down that Beck road a few times already recently!

      So I can totally appreciate the ‘eels’ in moderation approach

  4. I love Eels. But i’d go as far as to says that the later albums are much better and less 90s-ish

  5. As a physicist by training and a music lover as a hobby (not that physics is not a hobby as well), I wonder how well known it is among musos that Mark Everett is the son of Hugh Everett, whom many consider one of the most important physicists of all time. He was also ahead of his time in that his ideas were not appreciated until after his death; in fact, he left academia after getting his doctoral degree.

    I was recently at a conference where Jack Steinberger (92 then, now 93) was in the front row for all talks for the whole conference (about 50 hours altogether). He didn’t give a talk, he just attended to learn something about cosmology (his field is particle physics). Nice to see people this age still learning. As a Nobel-Prize winner, he could rest on his laurels (though as some pundit noted, he who rests on his laurels is wearing them on the wrong part of the body). I later learned that his son is Ned Steinberger, of headless-guitar-and-bass fame.

    • That’s neat – I hadn’t realized there was the physicist connection.

      That is inspiring too, seeing 92 year old experts still eager to learn!

  6. It took me many years to hop on board the Eels’ bus. No denying that there’s a lot of great music, but sometimes it’s just so difficult to engage with (for the very reason you mention).

    • I enjoyed – I think I’ll continue to listen like I ride the bus: every so often, for a change of pace.

      • … it’s certainly worthwhile checking out his post-Beautiful Freak output.

      • any one in particular, or are they all about equally worthy of investigation?

      • I’m a fan of Daisies of the Galaxy, and Blinking Lights and Other Revelations (possibly his best). The recent Wonderful, Glorious is also worth checking out.

  7. White Town and Butthole Surfers! Has anyone said that yet?

    Great write-up. I’m a big Eels fan, myself. I’d be interested to know what you or other Eels-enthusiasts think of my list of their best tracks .. http://aholeinthehead.wordpress.com/2014/05/31/the-50-greatest-songs-by-the-eels/

    • Not yet – you win!
      Thanks for the link – admittedly, my eels knowledge begins and ends so far with Beautiful Freak, but I don’t disagree with the tunes you picked from it that made the top 10

      • Cool. Glad you liked the BF picks. My Beloved Monster wasn’t far out of the list either. And yeah it’s okay that you’re not as big an Eels nerd as me. Few people are 🙂

        Still, I would really encourage you to at least seek at Electro-Shock Blues, which is the next album chronologically. It’s my fave, which you could probably tell by the fact I had almost all that album’s tracks in my list. It might also pique your curiousity about the back-story behind the songs, which is one of the things that really turned me into an uber-fan of them.

      • Hey if you’re going to be a fan of a group, might as well go all in and be a nerd!

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