I’ve been in quite a freaky mood lately (Heads out of the gutter….I don’t meant that!!). I just finished a manga series about a freaky notebook owned by freaky death gods that kills people. Now I’m reading Water for Elephants, with its freaky animals (a horse with a tail where its head should be! Auuuggghhh!!!) and freaky bearded people. Yet while my eyes are looking at these words and pictures of freaks, my ears yearn to participate in the show. They long to get their freak on and experience these things that my eyes are snottily keeping from them. To remedy that, I give them Beautiful Freak, the 1996 album by E (aka Mark Oliver Everett) and his indie band, The Eels (stylized as eels).
This is the band’s third set, and if the album cover art is any indication, then we are in for hopefully some of the freakiest sounds to ever come out of plastic and silicone and brush up against my eardrums. So let’s not waste any time….let’s explore the Beautiful Freak. And let’s take a drink for the number of times I’ve already used a variation of the word “freak”.
“Novocaine for the Soul,” We start of with a track that has a nice little mid-tempo groove and a neat, ethereal synthesizer mix to it. The song talks about needing things to numb yourself and get away from the stresses of life, and the feel-good vibe it has seems appropriate. Either that or it’s a subliminal message to off yourself completely. Grade: B+.
“Susan’s House,” The only sung lyrics in this song are the ones in the chorus. The verses are just E talking and describing things he’s seeing in different neighborhoods as he goes to his girlfriend’s house. It’s a pretty simple song, but the structure of the lyrics, coupled with the cool piano riffs make this one of the best on the album. Grade: A-.
“Rags to Rags,” This is a song that relates to a lot of current events, as the songs narrator tells of his financial hardships and losing his wealth. The menacing guitar riff and slow build at the beginning are neat, and when the band kicks in full gear, the track turns into a good car jammer. Grade: B+.
“Beautiful Freak (Drink!),” The title track is a haunting, gorgeous song about loving and accepting someone for their differences. It’s a wonderful social commentary that’s lyrically simple and straightforward. The keyboard and synth work create a lullaby-like atmosphere, and E croons softly and smoothly to the object of his affection, despite how freaky (Drink!) she really is. Another highlight. Grade: A.
“Not Ready Yet,” We go back to the edgier, electric guitar-laden sound and pounding drums. I’ve read that this song is about E’s sister, who suffered from depression and/or agoraphobia and how she struggled with doing day-to-day activities. It’s a song that’s appropriate for lounging around on a rainy day, but may also be to depressing considering the subject matter. Grade: B+
“My Beloved Monster,” We now come to the band’s most well-known song. For anyone not living under a rock, “My Beloved Monster” was used in the first Shrek movie. And appropriately so…it’s basically a great little buddy song with a jaunty guitar riff and cute lyrics. It’s also the shortest song on the album. Viva Shrek! Grade: A-.
“Flower,” This is a slow-tempo song with a drum cadence that you can still bop along to and a simulated choir in the background that adds an uplifting element to an otherwise depressing tune. The subject is paranoia, and E mourns the fact that everyone is against him and out to get him and basically make him feel like a freak (Drink!). A solid track, though it fades into the background. Grade: B.
“Guest List,” Like “Beautiful Freak” (Drink!), this song also deals with acceptance. The subject is wondering if he’s doing all the right things in order to be included and be on the “guest list.” The tempo drags a little, and the guitar riff isn’t the most interesting, but the overall message of the song is still important. Grade: B.
“Mental,” The bass line and guitar work really well with the sarcasm in E’s voice. The subject is frustrated and confused with not knowing the truth (of what?), and the aggressive arrangement of the song marries well with the lyrical content. Another good song to jam to in the car. Grade: B+.
“Spunky,” The lyrics are cryptic and give many ideas as to who Spunky is (Sister? Girlfriend? Pet Affenpinscher?) and what she’s trying to do. This is a very piano-keyboard heavy track with a nice, flowing 6/8-time rhythm and a very soft overall feel. It’s short, yet sweet. Grade: B+.
“Your Lucky Day in Hell,” This song is choc-full of freaks (Drink!). From a Winston Churchill dressed in drag to a Father Theresa, you really never can tell who’ll be at your doorstep, as the song suggests. The arrangement has sort of a sixties-seventies influence, and E’s voice has a cool echo-y sound. Probably the most sonically creative song on the album. Grade: A.
“Manchild,” What a beautiful way to end the album. Everything about this song is gorgeous, from the slow, lilting arrangement, to the positive, uplifting lyrics of reassurance, to the snippet of a phone call from E’s sister…it’s a sad song, yet a great one to listen to on a really bad day…especially if you’ve gotten sick from all the drinking at the mention of the word “freak” (oops…Drink agai…eh, not to this song). Grade: A.
And there you have it! Freaky (Drink!) stuff, huh? A very solid sonic effort from the band. Also an important album to listen to if you’re an advocate of inclusion and other social and mental issues. While it got some minor to moderate attention in the mid-nineties, many strong songs still managed to go under the radar. So check it out, and find out if you are indeed a Beautiful Freak (Drink!).
Recommended Songs: “Susan’s House,” “Beautiful Freak,” “Your Lucky Day in Hell,” “My Beloved Monster,” “Manchild.”
Until next time…Long live Sprite (That’s what I drank. Ha ha.)