Run with Eric + training

Albums Of The Decade: #21

Shootenanny! - Eels [2003]

This list is fast becoming an explanation of the learning process in music; how so many albums grew on me after I'd initially dismissed them. After narrowly choosing Gorillaz over Demon Days and learning to love I Am A Bird Now, we once again have an album that only found its way onto my list in recent weeks.

I've always sworn against the critics, friends and Eels fans who said Shootenanny! is a sly masterpiece, and sided with its highly underrated predecessor, Souljacker. There was no grand reason behind it; I just thought Souljacker, with its ace slogan 'YOU LITTLE PUNKS THINK YOU OWN THIS TOWN' on the cover, was a better collection of songs, thanks to such superb efforts as Bus Stop Boxer, Dog-Faced Boy and Jungle Telegraph.

But in giving both albums another listen when compiling this list (see, I do research and stuff!), I realised - once again - that I was wrong. Again. I'm always wrong, it seems, but at least in this case I have company. Fans and critics alike may love Shootenanny! but they don't appear to have listened to it properly.

Shootenanny! is described, from Amazon to the mouths of groupies, as E's 'happy' album, 'celebrating the joys of life' (no, really). I recall one review even said Eels had completely 'dropped the misery' that so defines them for one album.

This is bollocks. If these phrases were describing 2005's more optimisic follow-up Blinking Lights And Other Revelations they could almost work, but Shootenanny! is far from joyful - and that, by the way, is why it's so good.

With song titles including Agony, Rock Hard Times and Restraining Order Blues it's never going to be an easy ride emotionally, but that's what you get with Eels. Agony, in particular, is a heartbreaking piece of, well, agony that perfectly befits its jagged guitars and stabbing drums.

Most tracks are more obviously pleasant musically, but it's still tough stuff: Love Of The Loveless, an aching alternative anthem so subtly cynical E can only wearily murmur the chorus, is probably the most famous song thanks to The O.C. and it gives a good idea of the record's hurt.

What these happy-clappy easygoing critics probably mean to say is that, musically, E took a more middle-of-the-road approach to Shootenanny!. I'm still not sure I agree - every Eels album, even misery-fest Electro-Shock Blues, has had its mainstream singles - but there are, admittedly, more radio-friendly songs on this album.

Again, though, this is providing you don't delve deeper into the lyrics when twiddling those dials. Fashion Awards comes across as a light and lovely ballad until you hit, "We'll blow off our heads in despair" in the chorus (yes, it's ironic, but still). Rock Hard Times is pure bubblegum pop, except it features the words, "It's hard to laugh as you choke / Hope you like the rotten stench of doom." The music may be more upbeat at times but the words sure as hell aren't. You could list examples of the album's depressing lyrics until the cows come home and Anthrax themselves (one for the Izzard fans), but it still wouldn't convey the overwhelming misery of the record.

And it's fantastic. From the opening trio of quality tunes (All In A Day's Work, Saturday Morning, The Good Old Days - all excellent) to the semi-optimistic pay-off Somebody Loves You, via should-be indie classics such as Lone Wolf (wonderful song), Shootenanny! is a winner. I was wrong - again.

But, y'know, Souljacker's good too...

No Spotify link today, I’m afraid, nor tomorrow. Circumstances are beyond my control. Spotify links to #21 and #20 will come with #20 on Saturday.

Freedom, HAPPY, HOPE, Life, Music, road, TIME, and more:

Albums Of The Decade: #21 + training