For two decades now E of Eels has steadily established himself as the premier purveyor of mature male angst. Literate, tuneful, and capable of creating great pop songs that can either be life-affirming or, as the man himself puts it ‘major bummer rock’, and sometimes, both of these things simultaneously.
But what of the music Mark Oliver Everrett released before he formed the band that sealed his reputation as one of the finest songwriters of his generation? What does his solo stuff sound like? Well on the strength of this, his major label debut, pretty much the same, just a little more poppy and upbeat.
Lyrically, the material on A Man Called E is comparable to his later work, and vocally, it’s unmistakably E. It’s tonally within the music where there’s a real difference, as it has a considerable amount more cheery bounce about it than a lot of Eels output. There’s not quite the same cynical snarl that Eels fans would get used. As an album it sounds oddly optimistic, which is not something you could say about any Eels album. Sure, there would be optimistic sounding songs, but whole albums? Nope.
Another thing that gradually occurs to you as you listen to A Man Called E is how much it must have sounded at odds with the prevailing trends of American rock at the time of its release. In early 1992, grunge was the fashionable rock movement, and this album must have sounded like nothing else out at the time, and for all it’s lyrical bleakness, sonically it must have stood out like a sore thumb.
If you’re curious about E’s pre-Eels output, then A Man Called E is well worth seeking out, but you probably already knew that. Outside of Eels’ well established fanbase, it is well worth seeking out for fans of offbeat 90s alt-rock.
While Eels may have sounded pretty much fully formed from the release of their debut, in truth, E sounded pretty much like Eels before Eels actually existed.