Eerie, Inventive Pop

"Hospital Food" is a be-boppy conga soundtrack to the ensuing nightmare: go down this dark alley, it observes, and "Next thing you know/ you're eating hospital food."

A true monument, the Eels' Electro-Shock Blues is both an achievement

and a remembrance of the dead, one, moreover, that makes Nine Inch

Nails sound like a lark in the park and Lou Reed's "Berlin" seem heartless.

It's a concept album that is more than just concept, more than mere

album. Like fellow pop-genius Brian Wilson, singer/songwriter E has

become the sole living remnant of his family, and this music recognizes

harsh suffering and grief, yet not, in the end, despair.

Helped out by the musical likes of Grant Lee Phillips, Dust Brother

Michael Simpson, Lisa Germano, P. Huxley and T-Bone Burnett,

the album also features original, comic-book art, poetry by E's

grandmother, drawings by his father and writing by his late sister,

Elizabeth, all of which serve to bring death to life before our astonished ears.

In another context, the music alone would be praised for

its inventiveness as well as for its roots in the pop tradition.

But the lyrics are stunningly moving, mouth-gapingly sharp.

"Elizabeth on the Bathroom Floor" opens things up with the

unforgettable image of the kitty licking Elizabeth's cheek

following her collapse; it constitutes the eeriest two minutes

you can imagine. "Going To Your Funeral, Part 1" describes "a

perfect day for perfect pain," a non-glib "Eleanor Rigby." "Cancer

For The Cure" features a scarifying mix, all snare and sneer and

black humor -- Grandpa happily watches video porn with the

closed-captions on, "Old blue-eyes is back again/ But he

was never here in the first place," while "Courtney needs

love/ And so do I." Shivers.

"My Descent Into Madness" urges us to "Have a not so nice

day," and despite a la-la-la-la chorus, the lyrics are

dead serious: "The jacket makes me straight so I can just sit

back and bake," and, disturbingly, "Voices tell me I'm the

shit." Catchy, huh? The mood continues in "3-Speed," a

tender bike-ride through birthday parties, confusion and

becoming a mess: "Life is funny/ But not ha ha funny."

"Hospital Food" is a be-boppy conga soundtrack to the

ensuing nightmare: go down this dark alley, it observes,

and "Next thing you know/ you're eating hospital food." The

eponymous "Electro-Shock Blues" is gut-wrenched from that

place in which "you write down 'I am OK' a hundred times,

the doctors say I am OK ... I am not OK." Catch 22, eh?

"Efils God" advises that "it's time to split this hunk of

clay." E doesn't feel too good, does E? "Last Stop: This Town"

has hit, incredibly, written all over it, while "Baby Genius" is

heartbreaking, gorgeous and funny.

"Climbing To The Moon" is a musical version of the William

Blake etching that shows tiny figures climbing a ladder to

the moon, with the caption "I want! I want!"

That's way up in the sky; closer to the ground, "Ant Farm"

is a reflection on love and hate that features the

inspirational rhyme "farm/harm."

"Dead Of Winter" voices courage in the face of cancer

and its deadly treatment; it's stripped and spare, wintry

and true. Written as an answer to E's own earlier hit,

"Novocaine For The Soul," "The Medication Is Wearing Off"

is worldly, and wise.

Best is, thank God, last. "P.S. You Rock My World"

is not only a final farewell to Elizabeth, but evidence

of that which can be learned from the tragic: "a careful

man tries to dodge the bullets/ while a happy man takes

a walk." When E muses, "maybe it's time to live," he and

we -- his listeners -- emerge, startlingly, even improbably,

from darkness.