The guy called e the dominant singing and songwriting third of Eels is a touch too precious about his neuroses and nerd-revenge fantasies for his own good or that of his tunes. E sings with a gruff, throaty vulnerability that is far preferable to the irritating weediness of Weezer's Rivers Cuomo. And as '90s bummer rock goes, Beautiful Freak has a spare, tight-focus sound that flatters E's low-key melodies ("Susan's House," "Beautiful Freak") and his keen eye for absurdist detail ("Novocaine for the Soul"). But a few outbursts of clarion guitar and a little less of that numbing "Loser"-style groove would have gone a long way. Pitched a little too comfortably between serious emotional risk and raw, rousing desperation, Beautiful Freak is admirable but ultimately unmoving.
Semisonic, on the other hand, could sing about shoveling elephant shit in a windstorm and still sound like manna from Badfinger heaven. Great Divide is that rare '96 beast, a record of simple but sparkling modern pop, rattling with power-trio vitality. The album's luminous guitar vocal glaze bears the distinct imprint of singer/guitarist Dan Wilson and singer/bassist John Munson's former band, arch popsters Trip Shakespeare. But the subtle melodic torsion in songs like "Delicious," "f.n.t." and "Across the Great Divide," and the contagious vigor of the performances, are wholly Semisonic. By the way, "f.n.t." stands for fascinating new thing. Perfect. (RS 750/751)
(Posted: Dec 11, 1996)
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