I bought an album recently – The Eels Live at Town Hall. I didn't even know it existed, but when you see an album from a favorite band, you buy it without question. At least I do. And let me tell you, it is fantastic. E (Mark Oliver Everett) is one of the best musicians around, and has put out consistently great work for at least ten years.
I discovered The Eels, like most people, when "Novocaine For The Soul" came out, and just continued buying albums ever since then. I've always been impressed by the sparse wording of such complex narratives, and the way that strange instruments or electronic elements become so vivid in the music. It just works so well together, in arrangements that never cease to surprise.
This new album is no exception, being mainly a concert with strings. Many songs, taken out of context, sound like something Alex Ross would have used in his 20th century music lecture last week. The conversion from a rock template (bass, guitar, drums) to this string quartet thing is admirable, especially when you realize that E maintains a rock sense of rhythm and also solid song structure. It makes you realize where rock structures and harmonies came from.
An then there is the "Girl Of The North Country" cover. I got goosebumps, and i was sitting in traffic at a drawbridge in a sterile rental car. Imagine what it must have been like inside Town Hall. E's voice is so scraggly (I think more so as time goes on), and stark like white water. Paired with such a tender song and the piano and the open sound…just absolutely gorgeous. I'm sort of without words.
To me, the Eels bear a startling resemblance to Elvis Costello, and I'm wondering if it's just from the pictures of E (the glasses, the facial hair) or if it's something more. It could be in the sort of underlying universe that they live in…circling the mainstream but either not really interested in it or just not really accepted by it. I'm not sure. My question would be, when is Emmylou Harris going to collaborate with E? I bet it would turn out better than this whole Mark Knopfler fiasco.