Eels – Reflecting on the 20th Anniversary of “Souljacker” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Eels – Reflecting on the 20th Anniversary of “Souljacker”

The Album First Came Out on September 19, 2001

Oct 25, 2021 Bookmark and Share

Released over a week subsequent to the 9/11 attacks, Eels’ Souljacker showcased Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Mark Oliver Everett’s—better known by his stage moniker “E”—typically grim worldview, which suddenly seemed almost indicative of the times, although his creative misery predated the incident by a number of years.

Coming down from the four-year high through which he produced his ultimate masterworks—1996’s alt rock classic Beautiful Freak, 1998’s magnum opus Electro-shock Blues, and 2000’s slightly more optimistic Daisies of the Galaxy—Everett returned once more, dragging with him a loud, cynical sideshow featuring a hairy humanoid, a witch, a ghost, and a particularly gruesome serial murderer after whom the album is titled. Reception was largely positive, although some critics felt put off by Souljacker’s often discordant, bombastic noise rock approach, a sound for which Everett had traded the largely radio-friendly indie experimentalism of his ’90s output.

Opening with the sullen plea of the song’s titular misfit, “Dog-Faced Boy” buzzes with a unique breed of teen angst, E declaring, “You little punks think you own this town/Well someday someone’s gonna bring you down.” The plot line, quite tragic, depicts a day in the life of the furry, bullied schoolboy, as he resigns himself to the fact that “Ma won’t shave me/Jesus can’t save me.”

Continuing the theme of antagonism, the less enthralling “That’s Not Really Funny” finds its downtrodden narrator fed up with the insults he endures from his partner, pleading, “You must not continue to emasculate me/The neighbor children through the window/Can clearly see,” but to no avail. Unfortunately for the track in question, Everett’s rhyme scheme rings somewhat juvenile with lines such as, “The little boy will wipe his nose because it’s runny/Then point at me and laugh/But that’s not really funny.”

On a brighter note, however, “Woman Driving, Man Sleeping” strongly channels R.E.M., which works well for Everett, given his alternative roots. Director Wim Wenders named “Woman Driving, Man Sleeping” his favorite Eels track and directed the video of the manic “Souljacker pt. I,” which serves as a high point, rocking hard while remaining one of the album’s most accessible tracks.

“Friendly Ghost,” one of the album’s key entries, offers a bit of sage counsel—“If you’re scared to die, you better not be scared to live,” while the groovy “Jungle Telegraph” dabbles in faux-jazz and funk with intriguing results. “Fresh Feeling,” perhaps the album’s greatest success, stands in contrast to E’s general demeanor, embracing a positive outlook as he sings of “birds singing a song” and old paint peeling. The infectious trip hop beat and orchestral backdrop were enjoyable enough to land the track a spot on popular television show Scrubs during its run during the mid-’00s. As evidenced on the aforementioned track, when Souljacker is at its strongest, said material is unquestionably worthy of E’s legacy.

More somber numbers such as “World of Shit” and “Bus Stop Boxer” are both haunting and melodically sound, while tracks such as “Teenage Witch” and closer “What is This Note?” are more difficult to embrace, given that their noise-to-melody ratio tips heavily toward the former. Oddly enough, though, the album’s ultimate masterpiece arrives in the form of the brief, somewhat optimistic “Souljacker pt. II,” on which E defies the notorious Souljacker, a brutal killer who claims to steal and collect the souls of his victims, proclaiming that “he can hang my neck/From the old flagpole/But the Souljacker can’t get my soul.” The song itself is delicate, redemptive, and undeniably lovely in its own mournful sense.

All in all, Souljacker is a fine Eels release, though far inferior to its three predecessors. 20 years later, much of the album still feels fresh, with E’s grotesque character sketches and wicked sense of humor perhaps more relevant today than they were 20 years ago, when a nation at large had only begun to lose its innocence. While Eels released two more relatively solid albums in Souljacker’s wake, E’s recent efforts not only pale in comparison, but unfortunately seem to blend together into one monotonous pit of despair. This should not taint the reputation of his earlier works, though, as those first five albums are bold totems of a now distant, yet distinctive scene.

Souljacker is worth the time, should the listener wish to brave E’s dark carnival—a world which, come to think of it, bears an unsettling resemblance to our own.

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