Listening to Souljacker today has been a bit like buying a brand-new LP.
I’ve grooved on the Eels ever since I first heard ‘Novocaine For The Soul’, there was just something about it and their debut Beautiful Freak that really got me, it was melodic and groovy music with a bit of oddness and bite around the edges, they were a real cut above their post-grunge peers at the time although I’d have struggled to tell you exactly why, although having real pop smarts is definitely part of the reason. Then they released Electro-Shock Blues and its soul and exquisite melancholy moved me hugely, hell I like this band so much I’ve even collected their stuff on CD*. That’s real love for you.
I picked up Souljacker the day it came out and loved the cover, particularly the sleevenotes** by DJ Killingspree, who I do hope is an entirely fictional individual. The inner sleeve picture of E in full Howard Hughes regalia and, on the other side in The Straight Story mode. What I don’t remember is actually listening to this LP a whole lot, probably because I had a baby and a very pregnant wife at the time I bought it – families eh? So it has been really interesting to give it another go around. What I realise now, 15 years on, is that I’m a cloth-eared idiot and there was a whole platter of treats here that I should have been sampling. Hey, I’m a fool.
22 miles of hard road
33 years of tough luck
44 skulls buried in the ground
Crawling down through the muck
For years now the only track I’ve played from Eels Souljacker was the title track ‘Souljacker Pt.1’, basically because it really rocked and I love the menacing Wim Wenders video for it – how cool is drummer Butch?! that is the coolest maraca playing I’ve witnessed in years and this is by far the catchiest song about incest and tensions that I can think of, off-hand.
But let’s rewind a bit, I’m also a sucker for the grungy, primitive ‘Dog Faced Boy’ which goes all David Lynch in its’ tale of a hairy little chap’s sorrows. There is a divine primitivism at work here, it really is perfect, perfectly unpleasant that is and it makes me want to dance in an alarming fashion. Next up is the brilliant ‘That’s Not Really Funny’, which really is a perfect Eels song title. This is clever as flip melange of 60’s Euro pop, breathless finger-on-the-trigger psychosis and slightly out-of-control sentiments, it really sounds like no-one else did, ever. Plus, the Eels get 1537 bonus points for the song’s false ending – you gotta love a false ending on a song.
Probably the most widely known track on Souljacker is the uplifting ‘Fresh Feeling’, a breathy breathe of freshness in amongst all the madness, disappointment, grime and cynicism elsewhere. Personally though I tune in especially for all the madness, disappointment, grime and cynicism, so … I also think it’s one of the least inspired tracks here, a bit too Shrek soundtrack-y for my jaded tastes.
BUT, the wonderfully titled ‘Woman Driving, Man Sleeping’ is up next and this is just such a classic track although I really am struggling to articulate just why that is. There is a quiet reassuring melancholy here, it is almost more of a vignette than a song,
Woman driving, man sleeping
Passing all the other cars
Searching in the black
But never turning to look back
A little metal box under the stars
As soon as E sings that I’m there in the backseat, I can’t help but see and feel the whole scene play out in the headlights’ glare; he oblivious and easy – she aware and practical. The musical backing is superb too, perfectly tuneful. I’ve not been this impressed by a track in years. True story.
Souljacker doesn’t hit those heights again, understandably but there are a good few moments trapped in these grooves – the beck-like pop of ‘Friendly Ghost’^; the weird-ball hip-hype-hop of ‘Teenage Witch’; the parable-I-can’t-quite-grasp of ‘Bus Stop Boxer’ with its’ sumptuous guitar; the Bo Diddley-Waits ‘Jungle Telegraph’. You can keep the last three tracks though, I’d always far rather bands did a Van Halen^^ than include any padding. Having said that though, I do have a bit of a soft spot for the ‘shit/it’ rhyme scheme of ‘World Of Shit’^*,
In this world of shit
Baby you are it
A little light that shines all over
By this point in their existence the Eels weren’t really much of a band, as such more E and whoever he deigned to use at the time. This works to his favour massively on Souljacker, as the impressively vest-totin’ Butch aside, he ropes in the hugely talented John Parish to play guitar/most other instruments/co-write most tracks here/to produce, which was a real masterstroke – I’ve yet to hear a LP that wasn’t lifted by his contributions; in fact I’d rate him as the second most important person ever to be born in Somerset. Word.
As I said, 8 days ago-go when I started writing this nonsense, living with Souljacker this week has been like buying a brand-new LP – a damn fine one too. In this world of shit, this LP is it, apart from a little bit, which was slightly inadequ-it.
*some of their stuff just didn’t seem to exist on vinyl at the time.
**sleevenotes! Sleevenotes!! Sleevenotes!!!
^no Caspar-style shite going on here though, more of an attempt to gee yourself up to finding reasons to persist, ‘If you’re scared to die, you better not be scared to live’.
^^bang out 20-minute LPs I mean, rather than persist in changing their singers with ever-decreasing effects.
^*great song title, awful name for a shop/tourist attraction – as my creditors will tell you.