- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 16, 2002

The Eels made two stark, somber yet melodically beautiful albums dedicated mostly to ruminations on death, so it seems only natural that the band's driving force, E, would move toward matters of the soul.

What is unusual, at first glance, is the raw, loud and rocking pace of the band's excellent new album, "Souljacker." The Eels can be heard Friday at the 9:30 Club in Northwest.

E's gift for very human songwriting has at times been pegged as morbid by some critics, but E paints a positive picture of his mind-set for the band's new album.

"It all hinges on the moment in [the song] "Souljacker, Part Two," which was written first. That's where the idea came to me," he says. "I was on this meditation retreat and I had heard about this serial killer who claimed to be stealing people's souls. Meditating for 10 days where you weren't allowed to talk or write or anything was a really tough experience. And I had this song that was in my head about it all because I realized there was something good inside me and nobody can take that away from me."

The band's two previous albums were 1998's "Electro-Shock Blues" and 2000's "Daisies of the Galaxy," both of which dealt extensively with the recent deaths of E's mother from cancer and his sister by suicide. "Souljacker" could be seen to some as a startling change of the Eels' sound. Not so to E.

"I don't know, all these things kind of tie together simultaneously and naturally," he says in a telephone interview. "Having a record about your soul with sensitive, soft music is a little too New Agey for me. It just seemed like the way to tell the stories of the characters on the record. Some songs aren't, but most of them are abrasive."

"Souljacker" is a quirky album peppered with bizarre yet compelling characters who seem the product of an over-wrought imagination, yet two of the best songs on the album are drawn from real experiences.

"'Dog-Faced Boy' is based on a girl I know who was called 'Gorilla Girl' when she was growing up. She was teased for being too hairy, I guess, for what was socially acceptable and I changed the sex so I could sing it as a male and sink my teeth into it.

"And 'Bus-Stop Boxer' was inspired by one of the recording engineers, who made the mistake of telling me a story about his childhood. He had this psychotic father who would drive him and his brother up to school bus stops and tell them to go beat up kids randomly."

But by far the most bizarre, and the best, song on the album is "Jungle Telegraph," a gritty, taut yet irresistibly bouncy song in which a baby is born in a storm, grows up to be a teen prostitute, commits a murder and flees to the jungle and lives in a tree. Where did that come from?

"'Jungle Telegraph' was like an exercise where I decided that I wanted to end with the words jungle telegraph and start with the birth of a baby, because I had just witnessed a baby being born and that was on my mind. And I wanted to see how I could get from the baby being born to the words jungle telegraph and that's just where I went.

"I was proud of that song because it's not an easy feat to get such a dramatic story told succinctly in three minutes. It's a very difficult kind of writing. You only have 12 lines or something, it's very difficult to get your point across."

Of his perceived penchant for seriousness, E says: "I think there's a lot more humor going on in my lyrics than is often accounted for. Having a sense of humor has been such a matter of survival for me that maybe I throw it around in a way that it's hard to figure out what I'm joking about and what I'm serious about."

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