Electric Eels

The Eyeball of Hell (Scat Records)

Apr 10, 2002 at 4:00 am
At last! Woulda-been, coulda-been, shoulda-been legends the Electric Eels finally get the respect and retrospection and full-length release they, and only they, believe they deserve. Probably they have the Strokes to thank, because the Strokes have (once again) popularized the sloppy guitar and sloppier lifestyle the Eels pioneered in the artless hell of early-'70s Cleveland, thus making it possible someone might make a buck or two on the luminous, wriggling body of work the Eels casually tossed off. But the only thanks the Strokes deserve is a swift kick in the ass, face or both for shamelessly and soullessly replicating what the Electric Eels artfully crafted in between bouts of drug abuse, infighting and police beatings.

The Electric Eels were as much alchemists as they were musicians, and their self-declared philosopher's stone was the transmutation of free jazz (highbrow!) through rock & roll (lowbrow!). They sought to bind the intelligence and harmonic palette and raw expression of outré jazz with rock's exuberance and fashion sense and sophomoric, heartfelt poetry. The result of their experiments? The burbling, safety-pinned fetus that "matured" into punk rock -- oh, and also the death of galaxies of brain cells.

The Eyeball of Hell showcases the wit and wisdom of the Electric Eels in all their shambolic glory. John Morton's guitar scrapes and clangs like someone raking the sides of a corrugated-tin shanty. His atonal, grating "style" is married perfectly to Dave E. McManus' congested, sneering vocals. The only thing more jarring than Dave's voice is his strangled, skronking clarinet, which manifests like a drunken, tone-deaf specter throughout the album. Throw in the syncopated percussions of a pre-Cramps Nick Knox, and you got art, baby. The Electric Eels spawn naked, pulsating beauty with original tracks such as "It's Artastic" and "Spinach Blasters," and they make naked, pulsating beauty weep in their appropriations of "Dead Man's Curve" and "Black Leather Rock."

The question remains: Will the ready availability of The Eyeball of Hell deliver these musical philosopher-kings their long-deferred kingdom? Hmmm. This is the album that will return Quaaludes to the top of the party-drug heap. That should be reward enough.