Murder is a pretty evil deed, no question, but to Eels frontman E, taking a life is far less heinous a crime than leaving one without a soul.
Inner auras, or lack thereof, form the basis of Eels' fourth album, Souljacker, due Tuesday. The LP is a loosely structured concept album, bookended by the first single, "Souljacker Part 1," which appears as track five, and "Souljacker Part 2," track 11.
" 'Part 1' is about the ugliness of living a soulless life, and 'Part 2' is about realizing that it's your choice in the end," E said.
Between the title-track segments are songs about searching for spiritual guidance ("Friendly Ghost"), hopeless outcasts ("Teenage Witch," "Bus Stop Boxer") and living in despair ("World of Sh--"), featuring characters in varying degrees of soullessness or soulfulness.
The rest of the world got a taste of Souljacker six months ahead of its U.S. release, so as a reward to Stateside fans' patience, a bonus four-song EP, featuring a potential second single, "Rotten World Blues," will be included with the domestic version.
"It's a message song," E explained. "It's just saying that the world is a rotten place and as soon as you accept that, everything else isn't so bad. It's about lowering your expectations. If you get up every morning and go, 'Oh God, the world sucks,' you'll probably have a good day after that.
"But if you wake up like, 'The world really owes me something today,' you're gonna go to bed disappointed. It's all about being mentally prepared."
Such pessimism shouldn't surprise Eels fans, who've shared in E's sorrow and pain since the group's 1996 debut album, Beautiful Freak, which yielded the #1 modern rock single "Novocaine for the Soul." What might come as shock, though, is the overt shift from dour confessionals and quirky pop tunes to unabashed blues-infused rock nuggets. Album opener "Dog Faced Boy" is a midtempo, fuzzed-out, plodding track with E's cigarette-streaked whisper shouts relaying his anguish. And the single's ominously driving melody sets up the chorus to recklessly fly off the hinges.
The propensity to rock out isn't a recent revelation for E. Work on Souljacker began during recording of Eels' second album, 1998's Electro-Shock Blues, which was written while E was dealing with the pain of his sister's suicide and his mother being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.
When it seemed like his world was caving in, E enlisted in a meditative retreat near Yosemite in California, where he was forbidden from reading, writing and speaking for 10 days. While the mental introspection was deep and continuous, the restrictions on self-expression were almost maddening. As the isolation reached its excruciating peak, E would sneak out to the bathroom and scribble ideas for Souljacker on toilet paper using a pencil tied to a sign-up sheet for bathroom cleanup.
"It was really hard," E said. "I would have these passionate dreams about checking my phone messages or something stuff that you don't even think about in everyday life."
Upon his return home to the Los Angeles hipster neighborhood Echo Park, he started writing the record. Flooded with inspiration, E considered making his sophomore effort a double album. However, the depression rockers that would comprise Souljacker and the forlorn downers of Electro-Shock Blues proved too disparate to be packaged together. E continued to plug away at the Souljacker material in the ensuing years, and the album was completed in May.
A video for "Souljacker Part 1" was shot in a Berlin prison by German filmmaker and Eels fan Wim Wenders ("Buena Vista Social Club," "Paris, Texas"). Pairing an indie director with these hip, respected fringe figures resulted in a clip that would make David Lynch scratch his head.
"It's the last video you'd ever guess he directed," E said. "It's almost like a Mötley Crüe video. Wim called me and said, 'The only inmates are the Eels and 100 cute German women.' I immediately knew where he was going just because there was this innate creepiness of these old, hairy guys and these young, pretty girls. And I thought it would go great with the song terrifying and fun at the same time."
Eels tour dates, according to DreamWorks Records:
- 3/16 - Austin, TX @ La Zona Rosa (SXSW)
- 3/17 - New Orleans, LA @ Tipitina's Uptown
- 3/19 - Atlanta, GA @ Cotton Club
- 3/20 - Carrboro, NC @ Cat's Cradle
- 3/22 - Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club
- 3/23 - New York, NY @ Irving Plaza
- 3/24 - Boston, MA @ Paradise
- 3/25 - Philadelphia, PA @ Theatre of Living Arts
- 3/27 - Toronto, ON @ Lee's Palace
- 3/28 - Cleveland, OH @ Odeon Concert Club
- 3/30 - Chicago, IL @ Metro/Smart Bar
- 4/1 - Minneapolis, MN @ Women's Club Theater
- 4/3 - Boulder, CO @ Fox Theatre
- 4/5 - Seattle, WA @ Crocodile Cafe
- 4/8 - Portland, OR @ Aladdin Theater
- 4/10 - Los Angeles, CA @ El Rey Theatre
- 4/11 - San Francisco, CA @ Bimbo's 365 Club